Train drivers’ strikes, staff shortage and engineering work will trigger tens of thousands of rail cancellations and delayed journeys between now and the end of the year.
A nine-day overtime ban by train drivers belonging to the Aslef union begins on Friday 1 December.
The following day a series of rolling strikes by train drivers begins, targeting different regions of the country on different days. The aim is to cause maximum disruption while each driver loses only one day’s pay.
Journeys involving more than one train operator or region during the week of strikes are likely to be fraught.
Even without industrial action, planned engineering work and a shortage of staff at some train operators will disrupt journeys until the New Year.
Passengers in the north of England, on the East Midlands Railway main line and the East Coast main line will be particularly hard hit.
Next weekend, 26 and 27 November, the East Coast main line – which connects London King’s Cross with Yorkshire, northeast England and Scotland – will be blocked between Doncaster and York for what Network Rail calls “reliability upgrades”.
Only half the usual number of Anglo-Scottish trains will run, and journey times will be extended by around an hour as trains are re-routed via Leeds.
For the remainder of November the East Midlands Railway main line from Sheffield, Derby and Leicester to London St Pancras will be blocked on Sundays south of Leicester for electrification work.
Rail disruption will peak over the first weekend of December when train drivers’ strikes coincide with major engineering work.
The Aslef overtime ban will start causing cancellations from Friday 1 December.
On Saturday 2 December the targets are LNER, the main operator on the East Coast main line, and East Midlands Railway. Both are likely to run only a skeleton service.
The following day, Sunday 3 December, is likely to be chaotic for anyone trying to travel north-south. Almost all services on the West Coast main line, which connects London Euston with the West Midlands, northwest England, North Wales and southern Scotland, will be halted by the day’s Aslef strike.
The alternative route for many would normally be LNER on the East Coast main line. But long-planned Network Rail engineering work will close the line completely south of St Neots in Cambridgeshire. Rail replacement buses are planned between St Neots and Bedford, where passengers would expect to catch a frequent Thameslink train to London.
But Aslef has chosen to make 3 December its biggest strike day, calling out train drivers working for Thameslink as well. The advice for passengers is likely to be “Do not travel”.
The long and bitter dispute between the main rail unions and the 14 train operators that are controlled by the Department for Transport (DfT) began in the summer of 2022. The two sides appear as far apart as ever.
The RMT union is still in dispute with the same rail firms. Last year, the RMT took industrial action over Christmas and New Year, with five multi-day strikes between 13 December and 7 January. But the union is currently balloting members on an improved, “no-strings” pay offer, which is expected to be accepted.
Starting from the weekend of 9 and 10 December, wholesale train cancellations begin on Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express as the rail firms try to avoid short-notice cancellations.
From 9 December, only two trains per hour will run between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly on Avanti West Coast, rather than three. Weekday reductions wil take place on other routes.
Avanti West Coast is telling passengers: “This is a temporary measure and we’re sorry for any inconvenience.”
At the same time, the TransPennine Express link between Manchester and Leeds will reduce from four trains per hour each way to three. The quickest journey between Liverpool and Newcastle will be extended by 22 minutes. Liverpool-Hull services will start instead from Manchester.
The cuts will last for a year, the train operator says. From December 2024 it expects “robust and reliable increases in services”.
Christmas and New Year engineering work will start affecting passengers from Saturday 23 December, when lines start to be closed.
The most disruptive closure will be between London Paddington and Ealing Broadway from 24 to 27 December inclusive – caused by work at Old Oak Common for the HS2 project. No Heathrow Express trains will run, and the Elizabeth Line will be interrupted between the two stations.
The Great Western line will be closed completely, with GWR intercity services from South Wales and the West of England starting and ending at Reading.
On the East Coast main line, London King’s Cross will be closed on Christmas Eve – meaning trains on 23 December are likely to be extremely crowded. The line between York and Darlington is also closed on 24 December.
South Western Railway and CrossCountry passengers will be hit by the closure from 24 to 29 December of the main Southampton Airport-Southampton-Bournemouth line. From 30 December to 1 January, attention switches to the London-Portsmouth line – which will be closed between Guildford and Petersfield.
On Southeastern, trains to and from London Victoria station will start and end at Cannon Street or Blackfriars from 23 December to 1 January.
The line between Manchester and Preston will close on 30 and 31 December.
Other closures include:
Leeds-Wakefield on 24 December
Stansted Airport-Cambridge 27 December to 1 January
Shenfield-Witham, blocking the main Greater Anglia line from London to Norwich, 27 December to 1 January