DO NOT TRAVEL: How to get a refund and what's happening as Northern issues warning to rail customers ahead of strikes in first week of 2023

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Train operator Northern has issued fresh ‘Do Not Travel’ guidance for its customers across the North of England for the first week of 2023 due to strikes. Here’s why.

Strikes by the RMT and ASLEF trade unions will bring services to a halt from Tuesday January 3 to Saturday January 7. Tricia Williams, chief operating officer at Northern, said: “This is a most regrettable start to 2023 and we can only apologise to our customers whose return to work from the holidays will be disrupted by the action by the RMT and ASLEF. For many, Monday 9 January will be their first experience of our new timetable – which went live in December and includes an additional 3,000 services a week across our network. As such, we’re encouraging everyone to use the new ‘Check My Timetable’ feature on our website to see the changes specific to their local station.”

What’s happening?

National Rail’s Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train companies, have confirmed with the RMT striking on 3,4, 6 and 7 January only around 20% of rail services overall services will operate and half of the network will shut down. There are likely to be even fewer services on 5 January due to a strike by drivers who belong to ASLEF Special timetables for the RMT strike dates have been published on National Rail Enquiries and train company websites. A special timetable for the ASLEF strike on 5 January will be published on Thursday On all five days trains will start later and finish much earlier than usual, between 7.30am and 6.30pm Passengers who must travel should expect disruption, plan ahead and check when their last train will depart

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Image shows a Northern train at station as they issue a Do Not Travel warning for the first week of 2023Image shows a Northern train at station as they issue a Do Not Travel warning for the first week of 2023
Image shows a Northern train at station as they issue a Do Not Travel warning for the first week of 2023

The RMT leadership have also imposed an overtime ban across 14 train operators until 2 January, which may lead to short-notice cancellations with wide regional variations over the next few days. The rail industry is gearing up for five days of strikes in early January called by the RMT and ASLEF leaderships, which will mean that only a limited number of trains can run. Today (27 December) the industry is reminding passengers to expect significant disruption and to check the latest travel advice. There may also be some possible disruption to services on Sunday January 8 as workers return to their duties.

Thousands of specially trained and fully qualified back-up staff will step in during the RMT walkouts on 3-4 and 6-7 January to keep vital services running for those who need them. On RMT strike days, around half of the network will shut down, with only about 20% of normal services running. Timetables for these strike days have already been published. Trains that do run will start later and finish much earlier than usual – with services typically running between 7:30am and 6.30pm on the day of the strike. Passengers should plan ahead and check before they travel.

A walkout by train drivers taking part in a strike called by ASLEF on 5 January will affect 15 operators and will result in even fewer services running – with some operators running very significantly reduced timetables. Timetables for 5 January will be published on 29 December. Meanwhile, the RMT has an overtime ban in place at 14 train operating companies until 2 January that will continue to affect the level of cancellations and the punctuality of some services. This action may particularly affect those travelling out of London late in the evening on New Year’s Eve and passengers are advised to plan their journey in advance.

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Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “No one wants to see these strikes go ahead, and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this unnecessary and damaging disruption. He said: “We would advise passengers to only travel if it is absolutely necessary during this period, allow extra time and check when their first and last train will depart. Passengers with tickets for between 3-7 January can use their ticket the day before the ticket date, or up to and including Tuesday 10 January. This dispute will only be resolved by agreeing the long overdue reforms to working arrangements needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing, rather than unions condemning their members to losing more pay in the new year.”

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Why are rail workers striking?

The unions are in dispute with the government and rail companies about pay, job cuts and changes to terms and conditions with unions saying any pay offer should reflect the rising cost of living. However the rail industry is under pressure to save money after the pandemic decimated its finances. Network Rail is planning to cut 1,900 jobs as part of changes to the way its maintenance teams work - although it insists most of this could be achieved by people leaving voluntarily. The RMT disagrees with some of the changes and wants a guarantee of no compulsory job losses. The RMT rejected an offer of a 5% pay rise firm Network Rail this year and a 4% pay rise in 2023, with both offers described by union boss Mick Lynch as "substandard". Plus an offer from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) - which represents train companies has been rejected. That included a pay increase of up to 8% over two years and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies until April 2024.

Mick Lynch said on December 18: Every worker in Britain deserves a pay rise that reflects the cost-of-living crises. All working people should have the benefit of good negotiated terms, conditions, working practices and occupational pensions that will ensure their living standards in retirement. We call on the entire labour movement and the working people to rally to the support of the RMT and our members in this struggle.”

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, which represents 96% of the train drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales, said on December 20: ‘We don’t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place. They 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%. We don’t want to inconvenience passengers – our friends and families use the railway, too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of our country – and drivers don’t want to lose a day’s pay. 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.”

Ticketing and refund information (provided by RDG)

Tickets for 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 January can be used the day before the date on the ticket, or up to and including Tuesday 10 January. There is also likely to be some disruption in the early morning of Sunday 8 January as workers return to their duties. Passengers with Advance tickets can be refunded fee-free if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled. If the Advance ticket is for a train scheduled for a strike day, but it is not cancelled, delayed or rescheduled, and a customer prefers not to travel, they should contact their ticket retailer. Customers with 2 x Advance tickets (an outbound and a return), to be used as a return journey, may be able to get a fee-free refund or change of journey for any unused legs/tickets, if wither of the legs is scheduled for a strike day. Customers should check with their ticket retailer. Customers with tickets for long distance operators, particularly where seat reservations are required, can obtain a refund and rebook onto an alternative service. Trains running on days either side of strike days are likely to be extremely busy and a seat cannot be guaranteed. Customers are advised to check with their operator before travelling.

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