Rail passengers across the country face significant disruption today as workers from the Aslef union walk out in a long-running dispute over pay.
Aslef members in more than a dozen train operators will strike on Friday with more walk-outs planned for 31 May and 3 June – the day of the FA Cup final in Wembley.
Meanwhile, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will strike on Saturday as thousands make their way to the Eurovision Song Contest final in Liverpool.
Passengers travelling today and tomorrow have been urged to check their route before setting off.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the blame for the long-running walkouts should be placed on the train operators.
“We do not want to go on strike – we do not want to inconvenience passengers, we have families and friends who use the railway too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of this country,” Mr Whelan said.
“But the blame for this action lies, fairly and squarely, at the feet of the employers who have forced our hand over this by their intransigence.
“It is now up to them to come up with a more sensible, and realistic, offer and we ask the government not to hinder this process.”
Aslef said a 4% pay offer was “risable and obviously unacceptable”.
“We have been negotiating with employers – the train operating companies – for many months on pay. On several companies we have managed to come to an agreement, and on several others, multi-year deals have been honoured,” Mr Whelan added.
“Unfortunately a number of companies still have their hands tied by the Department for Transport and aren’t able to negotiate a reasonable deal with Aslef members.
“We are still prepared to negotiate in good faith but, unfortunately, as we have been unable to come to an agreement, we have had to consider industrial action.”
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Steve Montgomery, who chairs the Rail Delivery Group, apologised to customers for the strikes, saying it will cause “disappointment and frustration” for those attending the Eurovision and FA Cup final.
“While we are doing all we can to keep trains running, unfortunately there will be reduced train services across the network between Friday 12 May and Saturday 3 June, so our advice is to check before you travel.”
On Friday, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said train services run by TransPennine Express will be brought under government control after widespread delays and cancellations in the past year.
The operator, which covers an area across northern England and into Scotland, has been badly affected by drivers who are members of the Aslef union no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.
Mr Harper said his department has “played our part but Aslef now need to play theirs” by calling off strikes and the ban on rest day working.
Mr Whelan accused Mr Harper of “trying to blame Aslef – rather than the company’s inept management – for its many problems”.