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Opinion: Why both sides are wrong on the current rail strike


We seem to be no nearer a resolution to the current rail strike and further dates for December 2022 and January 2023 have recently been advised.

The Government’s (and it’s their view not the Train Operators or Network Rail that counts here) view of the rail system seems to be: “we poured a lot of money into it to keep some kind of service going during Covid, despite a massive fall in revenue, therefore we want to claw back at least some of this in cost cutting.” Note this view existed long before the most recent Conservative budget crisis.

The unions’ view is that along with the pay position, the reductions in jobs and the changes in conditions resulting from the cuts are unacceptable.

While both perspectives are at least partly understandable, neither of these entrenched positions are actually helpful. The railways are an important part of any carbon reduction plan for UK transport (see the post on how transport seems to be the only major sector who hasn’t cut emissions over the last 25 years), in terms of reducing emissions by car and air.

Government needs to think of the railways as a strategic investment, vital to its net zero plans. Anyone would think they’re not serious about this, if they’re intent on cutting railway expenditure, at the very time it needs to be investing to deal with the massive modal shift required in transport. Note that the Net Zero strategy (October 2021) includes this commitment “increase the share of journeys taken by public transport, cycling and walking” and this policy “We will build extra capacity on our rail network to meet growing passenger and freight demand and support significant shifts from road and air to rail (bold is ours in the cases above).

The unions, despite having valid arguments around pay and conditions, need to think of the long term impact on demand for rail from such a prolonged strike. There seem to be so many people saying “I’ll never use the train again” or “I won’t be tempted to use rail because of this strike”, that the long term impact on demand is likely to be significant. Admittedly, we would love to have some data on this (either survey data on people’s willingness to use rail post-strike or long term impacts of past strikes). Let me know in the comments below. For more on how public opinion is at present on the rail strikes, this is a good summary.

Essentially, both sides are too short-termist on this. Who is looking after the medium to long term for rail?



Agree or disagree? As usual, there will be complexities that such a short opinion piece will miss and we don’t have all the data we’d like. Let us know what you think in the comments below and feel free to share on the social media thingies too.

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