Rail services around Great Britain will be severely disrupted on Saturday by the most widespread strike by train drivers since rail privatisation in 1996.
Members of the Aslef union will stop work for 24 hours at seven train operators, halting some parts of the network and leaving only a few trains running on some other lines.
The strike by drivers comes three days after a national strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT), including Network Rail signallers and onboard crew at 14 train operators, shut down most services.
The strike coincides with the first weekend of the Commonwealth Games and the opening day of the new English football league season.
West Midlands Trains, which runs services to sporting venues around Birmingham, the host city of the Games, will have no services this Saturday because of the strike. However, strike action was called off at Chiltern Railways, which runs services between London and Birmingham, after Aslef agreed to rerun a strike ballot by its members rather than risk an injunction over objections to it.
No trains will run at all on Southeastern or most of London Overground. Only a few trains will run on Great Western, with no Heathrow Express or GWR services west of Bristol into Wales. LNER trains will be vastly reduced, especially via Leeds, and will not run north of Edinburgh. Only a few Greater Anglia services, and one Hull Trains service in each direction, will operate on Saturday.
Some disruption is expected to persist into the morning of Sunday 31 July, because of shift patterns and the knock-on effects of disruption.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which speaks for train operators, said the strike would upset the plans of millions of passengers, particularly those hoping to attend the sporting events. It urged passengers to plan ahead and check the latest travel advice.
The RDG chair, Steve Montgomery, said: “We’re really disappointed that the Aslef leadership has decided to impose yet more uncertainty and disruption for passengers and businesses in a week which has already seen a strike by the RMT.
“Like any service or business, we must move with the times and cannot continue to ask taxpayers or passengers for more money when we should instead respond to the huge changes in travel behaviour post-Covid.”
The RDG said passengers could use any advance tickets on Friday or up to Tuesday, or change their tickets or claim a refund.
Montgomery urged Aslef to resume talks. However, the Aslef general secretary, Mick Whelan, responded: “We’re happy to talk – but the train operators say there’s nothing to talk about, they have no offer to make.”
Aslef, like sister unions the RMT and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), say the government has prevented the industry from offering a pay rise approaching inflation, although ministers claim it is in the hands of the employers.
The union has agreed in principle a 6.6% increase from Transport for Wales, although this is awaiting ratification by members, after an 8.2% deal with Eurostar and 5.1% rise at ScotRail.
Whelan said strikes were “always the last resort” but that the union had been “forced into this position by the companies, who say they have been driven to this by the Tory government”.
He said many of his members had not received a pay rise since 2019, suffering a real-terms pay cut.
The unions’ analysis was backed by the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who said responsibility for the strikes lay with the government, which was “interfering with rail companies who want to do a deal”.
Khan said: “The only way these disputes are ever resolved is if [the transport secretary] Grant Shapps and the government stops pulling the strings and allows the rail companies to talk to the trade unions.”
A further strike by Aslef drivers is planned for 13 August, while the RMT and TSSA will take industrial action on 18 and 20 August.