Train drivers belonging to Aslef have begun a nine-day overtime ban, triggering hundreds of cancellations across the country. The union is involved in a long and bitter dispute with 14 train operators in England.
On Saturday, a week of rolling strikes will bring many rail services to a halt, as train drivers walk out one region at a time on successive days.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: “We have, in the past, called everyone out on the same day; by spreading the strike action, for which members overwhelmingly voted, coupled with our ban on overtime – action short of a strike – across the week, the ramifications for the rail industry will be greater.”
Aslef’s initial “action short of a strike” – the ban on rest-day working – brought cancellations from early on Friday.
London commuters using Thameslink and Great Northern are facing dozens of cancellations, particularly at King’s Cross and on the line through St Pancras. Most were notified in advance.
South of the capital, the Gatwick Express has been cancelled for the entire stretch of industrial action, though Southern stopping trains between London Victoria and the Sussex airport are continuing.
Chiltern Railways is cancelling some branch services and says: “Chiltern Railways are unable to serve the England (Lionesses) vs Netherlands event at Wembley Stadium. No trains will call at Wembley Stadium all day.”
The overtime ban is causing many short-notice cancellations elsewhere.
Early South Western Railway departures from London Waterloo to Southampton, Teddington and Dorking were axed “due to industrial action”.
Great Western Railway has cancelled early trains from London Paddington to both Weston-super-Mare via Bristol and Carmarthen via Cardiff and Swansea due to shortage of train crew.
While neither Transport for Wales nor ScotRail is involved in the dispute, travellers in both countries are affected by cancellations of cross-border links from England.
TransPennine Express has cancelled early trains from Manchester and Newcastle to Edinburgh, as well as a number of Manchester-Leeds-Hull services.
The early Leeds to Chester service on Northern was cancelled due to a fault on the train.
At London Euston – the hub for the West Coast main line to the West Midlands, northwest England, North Wales and southern Scotland – trains are running normally. But all north-south links are expected to be busy on Friday because of the likely chaos on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, train drivers belonging to Aslef will walk out on East Midlands Railway and LNER, which will run skeleton services.
On Sunday, it is the turn of Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern, Thameslink and West Midlands Trains. None of the rail firms will run trains – on a day when the East Coast main line hub at London King’s Cross is closed for engineering work.
One passenger at Euston, who did not want to be named, was heading for Liverpool to spend the weekend with his mother.
“I can’t get back on Sunday, except by going via Manchester, Birmingham and Reading, so I have to come back on Saturday,” he said.
Further strikes by train drivers belonging to Aslef will take place as follows:
Tuesday 5 December: C2C and Greater Anglia
Wednesday 6 December: Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, South Western Railway
Thursday 7 December: CrossCountry and GWR
Friday 8 December: Northern and TransPennine Trains
The Aslef action began hours after the RMT union paused its dispute, with members voting overwhelmingly to accept a no-strings pay offer and further negotiations in the New Year. No RMT strikes will happen in the next six months.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that Aslef are targeting the public and hospitality businesses at the beginning of the festive period. Instead of going on strike, Aslef should be following in the footsteps of the other rail unions and giving their members a vote on this fair pay deal.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “This wholly unnecessary strike action called by the Aslef leadership will sadly disrupt customers and businesses ahead of the vital festive period.”