London Charing Cross station

Brits seek a sporting chance as strikes enter a second season

The latest wave of strikes commenced on 31 May. Network Rail

It has become a way of life for the weary would-be travellers on Britain’s railways. Despite making the headlines all week, there is a diminishing impact on daily life, as rail strikes are factored in to travel plans on a routine basis. In England, which is most affected, the traveling public is becoming hardened to the disruptions caused by the industrial action. However, major spectator sporting events, including the FA Cup Final, the Epsom Derby, and an international cricket match at Lords, were adversely affected in the latest round of action, causing inconvenience for sports fans and weakening public support for the unions.

The strikes, led by the members of the ASLEF and RMT unions, have primarily targeted passenger train operators based in England, while services in Scotland and Wales remain unaffected, except for cross-border routes. Freight operations have also been generally unaffected by the strikes. The latest wave of strikes commenced on Wednesday, 31 May, with further walkouts on Friday, 2 June, and Saturday, 3 June. Additionally, on Thursday, 1 June there was action short of a full strike. The ASLEF union members, comprising approximately 12,000 train drivers, have embarked on their eleventh walkout since last June, and the second one this week. Despite the inconvenience caused to the public and the impact on major sporting events, Mick Whelan, the General Secretary of ASLEF, expressed the union’s determination to pursue a resolution, emphasising that their enthusiasm for industrial action remains unwavering.

Hat-trick of sporting disruptions

While the strikes turned thousands of stations across England to a standstill, as fifteen passenger train companies targeted, the industrial action excluded operations in Wales and Scotland, where the devolved governments there have responsibility for transport matters and have reached agreements with the unions involved. However, cross-border services were affected again. There were picket lines in Scotland. The cancellation of services from operators including Avanti, and the recently nationalised TransPennine Trains, meant Glasgow’s Central Station, and Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, felt the impact on West Coast and East Coast services. Trains were disrupted  to destinations such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and London’s Euston and King’s Cross stations.

Empty tracks at Manchester Piccadilly station
Like the rest of Manchester, Piccadillly station was empty for the FA Cup Final.

Despite the disruption caused by the strikes, the traveling public has shown resilience and adaptability, finding alternative means of transportation or adjusting their travel plans. Nevertheless, major sporting events scheduled on Saturday faced significant challenges due to the strike action. The showpiece FA Cup Final held at Wembley Stadium – featuring a first-ever final tie between Manchester City and Manchetser United – was the subject of much media attention. Despite all 90,000 seats being filled, many fans were openly critical of the disruption to their travel plans from the north west of England. The prestigious Epsom Derby horse race, held in the south east suburbs of London, and the international cricket match at Lords between England and Ireland were also impacted, causing inconvenience for sports fans and participants.

Strikes could persist for years

The strikes are part of an ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions. The unions argue that any pay offer should reflect the rising cost of living, while railway operators and the UK government have maintained an emphasis on the need for reforms to modernise the railway system to accommodate pay increases within financial constraints. Negotiations between the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and the unions have yet to yield a resolution, with both sides holding firm in their positions. Most observers agree that a resolution is no closer now than when the dispute erupted over a year ago.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, has said that the strikes could persist for years. Meanwhile, the affected train operators have been working to minimise the impact on passengers, with some running skeleton services on core routes. Others, including the operator Northern, have run no services at all over their huge network. The ultimate resolution to this industrial action remains uncertain, leaving commuters, travellers, and sports enthusiasts to navigate another summer of discontent on the rails. It has, very much, become a permanent fixture.

Further reading:

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.