This is the age of the train, or so went the 1970s ad. Those days seem very distant now, as we seem to have a railway service beset with disagreement and conflict. In fact, there has been industrial action affecting some or all of Network Rail dragging on for over a year, with serious consequences for the British railway passenger.
Arriving soon at a station probably near you is a special service of industrial action from Aslef (the UK train drivers’ union). When Aslef members go on strike, it has far-reaching consequences as it boasts 21,000 members, employed in driving trains all over the network.
Let’s see what you can do about this so that your travel plans aren’t utterly ruined. Before that, just how wide will the effects be?
Why are train staff striking?
If you’re an embattled passenger sick of facing disruptions when all you want to do is get to work, you may be of the opinion that you don’t care what they’re striking over and you’d just like them to blooming well get it sorted, please. Such frustrations are understandable, but it’s important to see what the issue is that’s having such an effect on your life.
The truth is, it’s not one issue. It’s lots. The main one is what’s regarded by the unions as a cut in real terms pay. With the recent rises in inflation, this contention has only become more keenly felt.
Let’s face it, the rail unions are far from on their own in this regard. In fact, the current industrial strife that the UK faces is reminiscent of the 1970s, so maybe that TV ad isn’t so anachronistic after all.
Aslef is going ahead with action due to what its General Secretary Mick Whelan calls inadequate pay offers made in talks with the Rail Delivery Group (the body that represents train operators). The Aslef-RDG discussions have been ongoing for months and cover a range of subjects comprising pay, pensions, jobs and conditions.
So, there’s a lot to be agreed upon. No wonder things have been mired in inertia for so long.
We’ll now turn to the question at the top of a lot of passengers’ minds.
Can I get a train ticket refund?
Strike action can be very annoying and hugely obstructive when cancellations interfere with your travel arrangements. Even worse than that, it can involve financial repercussions.
However, you should be able to get a fee-free refund depending on your ticket type. The following information is a good general guide, but check with the train operating company just in case. It’s a good idea to do this ahead of time. In these kinds of conditions, try to avoid short-notice changes where you can.
If you’ve booked your ticket already and the train service is cancelled or rescheduled to a time that doesn’t suit you, you can get a refund. Get in touch with the ticket seller, and they should sort it out for you without quibble.
Remember that your ticket is valid for the service immediately before and after the time you booked, as long as the same operator runs them. However, with a lot of others likely to be going for the same option, these services can be expected to be very busy.
For the duration of the industrial action, if your plans change, you can reschedule or cancel your flexible ticket. This determines whether the strike action affects the train you initially wanted to use. There may be an admin fee to pay.
If you have a ticket for a return journey and one or both legs are affected, you can exchange both parts of the ticket for another service or get a full refund. This is also the case with two single tickets making a de facto return trip.
Those with season tickets can claim back the cost of any affected journeys through the Delay Repay scheme.
Other transport options
Bus and coach
OK, it can take longer, and for some, it’s not as comfortable as train travel, but going by bus or coach has two main advantages: it’s cheap, and it’s not going to be crippled by any strike action this winter.
You don’t have to travel from London - both airports have direct coach services to them running from Cardiff, Oxford, Birmingham, Cambridge and many other locations around the UK. Travel time’s not too languorous either - the trip from Bristol to Heathrow, for instance, is a nippy 2 hours, with ten services every day.
If you were planning on a nice Southwestern Railway trip to or back from the coast, the coach can make for a reliable and perhaps novel alternative. You can go straight there or perhaps make a tour of it and go on a relaxed route around the Cornish hotspots.
If you need to get across London on a strike day, it may be worth opting for an overground experience courtesy of a London bus.
It’s unclear how much, if at all, the upcoming Aslef strikes will affect the Tube. Regardless, Transport for London expects its buses to be operating as normal throughout the period. However, be prepared for a crowded journey, as many other commuters and tourists will have exactly the same idea as you.
If you’re lucky though, you’ll score a decent seat on one of the best sightseeing routes around the capital. Much better than being stuck underground and a lovely way to get around.
It might be time to get that trusty bike out of the shed and get busy with the clips. If you haven’t cycled for a while, you may be pleasantly surprised how things have progressed in your absence, thanks to campaigns by such bodies as Cycling UK.
Cycle lanes and a general boost in cyclist numbers have meant that they’re no longer regarded as inferior road users by the majority of car drivers.
It’s safer and more convenient than ever to cycle now, so, especially if your trip is a relatively short one, it’s well worth buckling up that helmet and getting pedalling. Or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, check out these long-distance routes courtesy of the National Cycle Network. All very good for you (and the planet), of course.
However, if your legs aren’t up to this kind of adventure, why not look into electric bike hire? You’ll find e-bikes and e-scooters available for hire all over the UK.
Most of us are trying to use our cars a little less, especially with petrol being so expensive. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so you’d be forgiven for reverting to the jalopy. The good news about motor travel nowadays is that some very useful journey planners are available online.
Take the AA Route Planner, for instance. It provides clear a to b information, including total mileage and journey time, and is simplicity itself to use.
Or, if you want to include a diverting itinerary incorporating museums and other attractions, try Google Maps.
Both of these services are available as mobile apps for in-journey use, and both offer travel news updates to keep your trip motoring nicely.
How can I check if my train is running?
There are a number of options. Age Times will send out regular updates so you can be sure you’ll be kept up to date. If you need information beyond this, you can check in with Trainline or National Rail, which will advise of any upcoming issues with rail services.
Each day of the strike, running 2-8 December, will see different lines affected. Be aware, though, that there will be an overtime ban extending throughout the period 1-9 December, affecting all lines listed.
At the time of writing, service interruption is expected on the following days. It’s sensible to factor in an element of disruption both before and after these dates too. For instance, the last trains on the days before each strike period may well be altered or cancelled. Or they may be especially busy.
Saturday 2 December 2023
- East Midlands Railway.
- London North Eastern Railway.
Sunday 3 December 2023
- Great Northern Thameslink.
- West Midlands Trains.
Tuesday 5 December 2023
- Greater Anglia (including Stansted Express).
Wednesday 6 December 2023
- Southern Gatwick Express.
- Southwestern Railway (Island Line, main line and depot).
- Island Line.
Thursday 7 December 2023
- Great Western Railway.
Friday 8 December 2023
Do note that there are several key exceptions to the disruption picture. Eurostar, for instance, is unaffected by the national rail strike, as is Transport for Wales and Scotrail. Also, for those intending on a trip way up north, the Caledonian Sleeper service is not anticipating any problems at the time of writing.
So, it’s not right across the board (or right across the border), but it’s serious nonetheless.
Regardless of how you feel about the unions’ stance, it’s inevitable that the consequences will be widespread and severe. Good to know then that, although your travel plans will doubtless be affected, there are good alternatives to employ instead.
Nobody likes being forced into an alternative, but it might pay dividends to look at this break with the norm as an injection of something fresh and new into your life. As long as you have the time and resources to incorporate one of these changes, it might actually result in something positive for you.
New experiences are good for us, and they can arrive in the strangest disguises and with the most unlikely prompts. So, stay positive, and you never know what may happen.