Rail strikes: passenger confidence in railway at risk

15 June 2022

Here we go… Next week it looks likely passengers will be hit by the most disruptive strikes on the rail network for decades.

We’re urging all parties to get back around the table to reach a deal. If the strikes go ahead the impact will be felt by millions of passengers. RMT members at most, but not all, train companies have voted to strike. However, the action affecting Network Rail means the impact will be felt across the whole of Great Britain. Although some main lines will have a service, many routes will have no trains at all on the strike days and the disruption is likely to spill over, making rail travel difficult all week. The impact on some will be severe. Many will have to cancel plans or try to find another way to travel.

Of course, it’s not just the scale that makes this strike different. It is also the first rail strike in the working week since the pandemic and the work from home revolution. In recent months the return to the office has been gathering pace. This action will undoubtedly drive many people back to working from home, at least temporarily. What might have been significant disruption could now, for the lucky ones, have less impact as meetings switch almost seamlessly back to Zoom. Spare a thought then for those who, have to travel to clean, care, make, sell and generally ‘keep the lights on’. These passengers will bear the brunt of strike action.

In advance of the strikes we’ve been pressing operators to provide clear information. Passengers need to know what services will and won’t be running to allow them to plan their journeys, and how to get their money back if they can’t travel. If the strikes go ahead, we’ll be using our Rail User Survey and other insight to closely monitor the passenger experience. We’ll feed this back to all parties to ensure they understand the impact on passengers.

If train companies want people to feel confident in the railway, then it’s vital they give them the information they need, and treat them fairly if they can’t travel.

Rail passenger numbers have been recovering strongly – especially for leisure – as the pandemic recedes from view. We’ve continued to track confidence. Our most recent Rail User Survey shows that eight in 10 of those who hadn’t travelled by train in the last seven days would feel safe doing so, up from less than six in 10 earlier this year. This is a good sign for the future. Any increase in industry costs can only be met by more taxpayer money (unlikely), increased fares (unpalatable), or – far better – by attracting more passengers. The railway is recovering from one huge crisis. Let’s hope strikes don’t stop this passenger growth in its tracks.

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