Tube strikes to be worst in decades with 16m journeys axed over four days

Tube strikes to be worst in decades with 16m journeys axed over four days

Londoners are facing the worst Tube strikes this century with up to 16 million journeys set to be cancelled by a walkout across the coming week.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) members, working across the London Underground, started rolling strikes on Friday, with a near-complete shutdown of Tube services expected from Sunday evening until next Friday morning.

Last-ditch talks between the union and Transport for London (TfL) were said to have failed on Friday after a five per cent pay deal was overwhelmingly rejected by members.

TfL has warned there will be “little or no service” across all 11 Tube lines between Sunday evening and next Friday morning, although the Elizabeth Line, London Overground and DLR will remain open with some disruption and possible station closures.

Rail experts say the strikes would be “amazingly disruptive” to the capital and bring more travel chaos than previous walkouts in 2015 and 2002, which saw the entire Tube network closed by industrial action.

Christian Wolmar, a transport commentator and author of The Subterranean Railway, said previous Tube strikes of similar scale had lasted 24 or 48 hours and it was “exceptional” for the network to be closed over so many days.

He said: “Four days is a lot. I am surprised the unions, whose members do need the money after Christmas… can withstand that.”

Last March, all 11 Tube lines were reduced to little or no service in a 24-hour walkout by RMT and Aslef unions.

The last time the entire Tube network was closed by industrial action was a 24-hour strike in July 2015 which saw around 4.7 million journeys cancelled.

In September 2002, a 24-hour closure of the Underground led to around 5.2 million journeys being axed.

Based on official TfL passenger numbers from 2023, next week’s strike would see around 16.1 million journeys cancelled.

Previous walkouts of 72 hours or longer, such as in September 2007, have not seen all 11 Tube lines impacted simultaneously.

A report from London HQ, the collective of four central London business improvement districts, suggests one in five workers will not travel to offices during the industrial action.

Ruth Duston, chief executive of London Heritage Quarter, said: “Despite there being a clear appetite for a more regular return to the office from both employers and employees, the impact of these strikes are clearly preventing workers from commuting in.

“In addition, the continued domino effect that it has on the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors results in businesses having to cover for losses that are beyond their control.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, estimated the strikes could cost the sector up to £50m.

Who is striking and when?

Members of the RMT union working in different parts of the Underground system will walk outat various times over the coming week:

  • Engineering train drivers start action on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 January.
  • RMT members in LUL’s network control functions take action on Sunday 7 and Monday 8 January.
  • Signalling and service control staff take action on Tuesday 9 and Thursday 11 January.
  • All other RMT members, including engineering, fleet maintenance, station and train operators, will strike on Monday 8 and Wednesday 10 January.

She said that figure was “on top of the lost £4bn in sales over the past 18 months”, which hospitality businesses have already had to “absorb” from past transport strikes.

“January is already one of the quieter trading months of the year for hospitality,” Ms Nicholls added, “where every sale counts and this disruption will make the start to the year even more challenging. We need all parties to come together to urgently reach a resolution and bring to an end this long-running disruption.”

Mr Wolmar told i the strikes would be “amazingly disruptive to Londoners’ lives”, despite many office workers being able to work from home.

However, he added he was still hopeful of the RMT striking a deal with transport bosses: “If I was a betting man I would say they will come to some last-minute deal,” said Mr Wolmar “I suspect they will cobble something together.

“If you lose four days’ pay that is much of the increase you would be looking for by going on strike. In a way, it does not make a lot of economic sense.

The RMT voted overwhelming in December to go ahead with industrial action over a 5 per cent pay offer.

The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said Tube workers were not going to accept poor offers and the “continual undermining of conditions.

“Our members have made it clear that they are prepared to take action and we urge TfL to enter into meaningful conciliatory talks to avert disruption in the capital.”

At present, the strike means Tube services will close earlier than normal on Sunday, with customers being advised to complete journeys by 5.30pm.

From Monday to Thursday, TfL has said “severe disruption is expected, with little to no service expected to run”.

Tube services are set to resume on Friday, 12 January but will start later than normal, with a good service expected by about midday.

As well as negotiating over pay, TfL are also understood to be demanding the restoration of heavily discounted train travel on national rail services they use to get to work. The benefit has not been offered to new staff since 1996.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The refusal of TfL to restore staff travel facilities and create a two-tier workforce is also unacceptable.

“Our members have made it clear that they are prepared to take action and we urge TfL to enter into meaningful conciliatory talks to avert disruption in the capital.”

TfL has insisted it is keen “to try and avoid this planned strike action” and that talks with the RMT are “currently ongoing”.

Glynn Barton, TfL’s Chief Operating Officer, said he was “disappointed” with the RMT strikes, adding: “We have been clear throughout our productive discussions with our trade unions that this offer is the most we can afford while ensuring that we can operate safely, reliably and sustainably.”