Train driver looks out from cab to the track ahead

UK train drivers union closes rail network with a new strike in January

Driver with DMI screen in-cabNetwork Rail

The train drivers’ union ASLEF (traditionally known as the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen) has announced another one-day strike. The trades union will take action on Thursday 5 January 2023. Members at 15 passenger train operating companies, mainly based in England, voted overwhelmingly for more walk-outs in a long-running dispute over pay.

This new strike, in a dispute over pay at most of the passenger train operators in England, will see 2023 start with the rail network almost paralysed in the first week of January. Already the larger union, the RMT, has announce 48-hour strikes for 3-4 and 6-7 January. Much of the network will already be on a planned closure, or on a restricted service on the first two days of the year.

Employers not offered a penny says union

The ASLEF strike will bring services on affected lines to a halt, and when taken into context of other actions, will cripple passenger for more than a week in January. It comes as strike action in many different sectors of the economy is growing, with the government singles out for criticism in refusing to meet employees demands during the cost of living crisis.

“We don”t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place”, said Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF. The union represents 96 per cent of the train drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales. “[Employers] have not offered our members at these companies a penny – and these are people who have not had an increase since April 2019. That means they expect train drivers at these companies to take a real-terms pay cut – to work just as hard for considerably less – when inflation is running at north of 14 per cent”, he added. That figure is however disputed by government sources, with the Office for National Statistics calculation for December’s Consumer Prices Index putting the rate of inflation at 10.7 per cent, although that still represents a four-decade high.

Serious and sensible offer demanded

Train operating companies say their hands have been tied by the UK government, according to the union. “The government, which does not employ us, says it is up to the companies to negotiate with us”, says Whelan. “We never refuse to sit down at the table and talk, but these companies have offered us nothing. That is unacceptable.” ASLEF has conducted a legally-required fresh ballot of members. UK law says a strike mandate is only valid for six months. However, in a vindication of their union, members voted overwhelmingly again to take strike action. “The resolve of our members is rock steady,” said Whelan. “A 93 per cent “Yes” vote, on an average turnout of 85 per cent, shows that our members are in this for the long haul. We now have a new mandate for industrial action for the next six months.

Nighttime shot of snowy London skyline showing railway tracks approaching London Bridge with The Shard on the skyline
Frosty Industrial relations means the bleak midwinter continues on the UK railways (Image: Network Rail)

The union says they want companies to make a ‘serious and sensible’ offer and for the government not to put a spoke in the wheels. “We believe in investing in rail for the future of our country – and drivers don’t want to lose a day’s pay”, says Whelan. “That’s why strikes are always a last resort. But the intransigent attitude of the train companies – with the government acting, with malice, in the shadows – has forced our hand.”

Advent Calendar of strikes

The companies directly affected are Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountry; East Midlands Railway; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; GTR Great Northern Thameslink; London North Eastern Railway; Northern Trains; Southeastern; Southern/Gatwick Express; South Western Railway (depot drivers only); SWR Island Line; TransPennine Express; and West Midlands Trains. Although mostly in England, many services that cross borders into Scotland and Wales will be affected too.

ASLEF is at pains to note it has already reached agreements with more than a dozen operators in the passenger and freight sectors. Britain has faced an ‘Advent Calendar’ of industrial disputes. A major strike in one or more economic sectors has taken place on every day of December. It is already looking very much like that pattern will continue, all the way until Twelfth Night too.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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