The largest rail strike for a generation caused severe disruption in Birmingham and across the country on Tuesday (21 June).
Usually packed stations such as Birmingham New Street and Moor Street were, as expected, almost deserted throughout the first day of industrial action, except for union picket lines.
Many passengers’ journeys took several hours longer than normal, while those who chose to travel by car instead were greeted by a surge in traffic.
Just a fifth of trains across the country ran on Tuesday and half of all lines were closed.
The RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) strike involves 40,000 signallers, maintenance and train staff working for Network Rail.
Workers are protesting over over pay, jobs and conditions, and rail companies across the West Midlands currently have issued reduced timetables in place over the next few days.
RMT union members are due to strike for two more days this week with travellers being advised to avoid rail travel from 21, 23 and 26 June (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday).
What happened in Birmingham on Tuesday, 21 June?
RMT union pickets, who had been out since around 6am, were posted at all the main entrances to Birmingham New Street station, as well as outside the city’s eye-catching concrete signal box in nearby Navigation Street.
Although reporters were advised that none of those on the pickets were authorised to speak to media at New Street, the mood of members was upbeat.
They also said that there was some visible support from the public, with a handful of drivers beeping horns, however most people on their way to work in the city centre merely glanced at the picket lines before carrying on.
Window cleaner Anthony Noble was soaping down the glass panels on The Railway pub opposite the main picket line at Birmingham New Street station.
The 46-year-old is fully supportive of the industrial action, saying “fair play to them”.
“At the end of the day they do a good service. They should be on strike,” he added.
He said talk of a conditional below-inflation pay offer, or proposed rule changes to allow rail operators to hire agency staff, is “desperate”.
“What are they going to do, replace them?”
He added. “I hope they get what they’re asking for.”
Running trains ‘overcrowded’
Many passengers reported that the train services that were running were overcrowded.
Carol Hutchinson - on her way back to the Lake District after coming off a six-hour flight from Egypt - arrived back in the UK to find her direct train from Birmingham International station cancelled.
Having made her way to New Street, she was waiting to board, with her luggage, what appeared to be one of the few trains still running.
“I think it’s going to be standing room only… I’m not even sure I’ll get on with my suitcase,” she said.
Replacement bus services in place
Rail companies have put on replacement bus services at Birmingham New Street - but not all passengers are happy about this.
Five people were seen boarding a replacement bus service outside the station for the 9.24am service to Bristol Temple Meads.
One man, asked for a comment on the strikes as he boarded the coach, while weighed down with a fully-laden camping rucksack, replied “half of what I said wouldn’t be fit to print in a newspaper”.
However, another man passing the nearby picket line said to striking workers “well done everyone, solidarity. Well done”.
One person at Birmingham New Street said her job interview had been affected by the train strike.
Steph, said: “I was due to have a job interview today, but sadly the person who was due to do it couldn’t come, so we’ve got to reschedule for another day, which is a bit disappointing. But heyho, life happens.”
RMT members discuss rail strike at New Street
RMT members spoke with BirminghamWorld during this morning’s strike at New Street about why they feel the walk outs are necessary and whether further action will be taken.
Ian Allen, the National Executive for the RMT Midlands, said: “We’re on strike protecting our members jobs, our members terms and conditions and and our members who worked two years through the pandemic for a pay rise which they haven’t received for over two years.
“We’ve had a lot of other trade unions, including Birmingham Trades Council, and we’ve seen the travelling public, and everyone has been in solidarity with us, and we’ve had no negative feedback at all.”
On whether the strike action could continue, Ian said: “This union will take further action, and this union will take action until our aims are fulfilled and we’ve got a pay rise for our members, we’ve got protection for our members jobs and we’ve got protection for our members terms and conditions.”
Birmingham Hall Green MP Tahir Ali said he would also be joining pickets later on Tuesday, tweeting: “Solidarity to all those who are out taking action to protect jobs, ensure safety, and win better pay and conditions.”
Major congestion on the roads around Birmingham
Congestion was also building on the roads around the A435 Kings Heath and Balsall Heath on Tuesday morning.
The AAs traffic monitoring service reported congetion around the M6 near Birmingham
It’s was also busier than usual around St. Andrews. The city centre A4400 around the Museum and Art Gallery was also very busy in the morning with more cars on the road.
What will happen next?
The chaos will continue on Wednesday, with only 60% of trains across the country running, mainly due to a delay to the start of services as signallers and control room staff are not doing overnight shifts.
Although strike action is scheduled on Thursday (23 June) and Saturday (June 25), significantly reduced West Midlands Railway services will also operate on Wednesday 22 June and Friday 24 June as the strike action will impact the usual operation of the railway.
The following routes will have a limited service in operation between 7.30am and 6.30pm on strike days:
- Cross-City Line (Lichfield Trent Valley – Redditch/Bromsgrove via Birmingham New Street) – 2 trains per hour
- Wolverhampton – Birmingham – 1 train per hour
- Birmingham New Street – Birmingham International – 1 train per hour
No trains will run on any other WMR route, including all routes via Birmingham Snow Hill, Birmingham-Shrewsbury, Birmingham-Worcester-Hereford and Nuneaton-Leamington Spa.On these days services will commence at 7.30am with last trains earlier than usual.
Are there changes to Clean Air Zone charges during the strikes?
Birmingham City Council members discussed the affects of the rail strike on residents at a recent full council meeting. This included a question from Conservitive members as to whether the Labour leaders would cut the Clean Air Zone charges as people were unable to use trains to enter the city centre. But the answer was a firm no.
Here’s what was said: Cllr Alden also asked the Leader of the Council: “The rail strike comes at a time of rising costs of living and extra costs for commuters. Does the leader commit to waiving all Clean Air Zone Charges during those days of strike action to ensure commuters can still get to work?”
In response, Cllr Ward confirmed there would be no exemptions to the charge on the days of industrial action, nor would there be any exemptions during the Commonwealth Games.
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