Thursday, December 22, 2022

The industry warns that there are only nine days left to prevent Christmas train chaos

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Transport Secretary Mark Harper is “completely gripped by the need to speed up the situation,” a source said, as he hinted that progress is being made on the rail dispute

Railway bosses have until December 7th to prevent the Christmas railway chaos, say industry circles.

If an agreement to prevent planned strikes is negotiated after that date, rail companies will have insufficient time to reschedule train schedules, staffing plans and train routes to allow normal services to resume.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper is “completely gripped by the need to speed things up,” a source said Iwhen he hinted that progress was being made in the rail dispute.

To ensure the festive period is not interrupted with strikes starting December 13, an agreement must be reached within the next nine days, industry sources said. If an agreement is reached after this date, the planners will not be able to implement a new timetable at such short notice.

When strikes are canceled at the last minute, provisional timetables and staffing schedules have to be completely re-created to accommodate a normal weekday or weekend day’s services.

Changing train schedules requires extensive planning as the bosses have to plan the train routes, staff assignments and the daily run of each individual train.

Each of the three key areas requires a separate blueprint, and in order to change a schedule, each of them must work together in a cohesive manner. It can take weeks to bring these three variables together.

Problems are compounded as many trains and non-strike crews are redistributed and not where they normally would be.

The rail bosses must therefore agree within the next nine days to give the planners enough time to redraw the timetables.

Eight days of strikes are planned – the biggest strike yet in the long-running dispute hitting the holidays and the start of the New Year.

On strike days, only every fifth train is expected to run. Disruption is expected in the days after a strike, with timetables hovering around 60 percent of normal.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said: “As time is running out to avert the widespread Christmas disruption that would result from further industrial action, we need the RMT to call off the strikes and work with us to achieve a fair to reach agreement our people, our passengers and for the taxpayer.”

The transport secretary has indicated progress is being made, signaling that a change in the negotiating mandate means rail chiefs “will be able to reach an agreement”.

“But we need to be able to negotiate this package of reforms because that’s the only way the savings will skyrocket,” Mr Harper told the BBC on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

“I don’t have a bottomless pit of taxpayer money to address this problem.”

Asked if the situation can be resolved by Christmas, the minister said: “I want the dispute to be resolved and I want the strikes to end.”

But the RMT union, which runs strikes on rail, said the minister’s comments were nothing new.

“We need Mr. Harper to make his role as presenter tangible and real,” a spokesman said.

“That means setting out in writing the role and powers of the RDG and giving them the mandate that will allow them to make an offer that will result in an agreement.”

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