As far as I know the government has contingency plans in place and protecting freight traffic is a top priority
The RMT union is considering its next move after securing an overwhelming mandate for consecutive industrial action over wages and possible job cuts.
The government braces for travel chaos and major supply problems after workers voted for the biggest rail strike in decades.
No date has yet been set for a possible strike, but bosses say they expect to do so in mid-June. The union must give at least two weeks’ notice of a strike and agree to the terms of a “minimum service” before any action is taken.
It’s understood a date is unlikely to be announced before later this week as unions allow rail bosses to digest the outcome.
RMT chief Mick Lynch said the ballot mandated strikes for six months and therefore the disruption could continue into next year if the dispute is not resolved.
The extent of a strike depends on what the union believes is sustainable for both members and the public.
But up to 80 per cent of passenger services could be eliminated and rail bosses are preparing to operate a 12-hour timetable between 7am and 7pm.
Any strike would affect the whole of the UK, with staff from 13 of the 15 rail operators voting in favor of action including: Avanti West Coast, c2c, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Greater Anglia, GWR, LNER, Northern, Southeastern, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains (including London Northwestern Railway).
While the rail industry can provide some cover for striking train drivers and ticket workers, a strike by signallers, of which there are around 5,000, would have a bigger impact.
I believes the government has contingency plans in place and its “top” priority is protecting freight transport, which operates 24 hours a day and supplies a range of critical industries including energy, construction and retail.
As a result, reports suggest the strike could lead to blackouts at power plants, empty supermarket shelves and stranded planes on runways if fuel deliveries fail.
But while all scenarios are being considered, the government believes such drastic consequences are unlikely.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The transport of essential goods is an absolute priority in any disruption caused by union industrial action.
“We are working closely with Network Rail and the rail freight sector on contingency planning to mitigate any disruption to passenger and freight industrial action.
“This includes working with freight carriers and their customers to plan ahead and reduce the impact on national supply chains.”
RMT’s demands include a pay rise that reflects inflation rates of around 11 percent, as well as a reversal of plans for mass ticket office closures and the dismantling of up to 2,500 maintenance stations at Network Rail.
Passenger numbers on the rail network remain at about 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with future demand uncertain due to increases in people working from home.
The Treasury is understood to be pressuring rail operators to cut costs after backing the industry with up to £16billion in bailout money during Covid.
Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines said: “The RMT has been hasty in reacting here as everyone loses if there is a strike. We know our employees are concerned about job security and pay. As a public body, we have worked to offer a wage increase that taxpayers can afford and we continue to discuss this with our unions.
“We urge the RMT to sit down with us and keep talking, not walking around, so we can find a compromise and avoid harmful industrial action.
“We are at a pivotal point in the railroad’s recovery from the pandemic. The taxpayer has provided the industry with £16billion worth of extra life support in the last two years and it cannot go on like this.
“Any industrial action now would be catastrophic for our industry recovery and would severely impact vital supply and freight chains. It would also serve to undermine our collective ability to afford the wage increases we want to make.”
Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail companies, said: “It’s not fair to ask taxpayers to continue to shoulder the burden when there are other vital services that need public support.
“No one wins when industrial action threatens to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of passengers and businesses and jeopardize industry recovery.”