'Aslef wants to shut people out': Minister defends railway ticket sale for journeys running during drivers' strike

23 January 2024, 08:37

Huw Merriman
Huw Merriman. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

A government minister has defended a plan to give away train tickets at discount prices for services taking place during a rail strike.

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A million train tickets have gone on sale for a week, as part of a government plan to encourage people to use the railways.

The advance and off-peak tickets, which are discounted up to 50%, are for services for a six-week period between 30 January and 15 March for journeys across England and Wales, and cross-border trips into Scotland.

The first week of the sale coincides with a train strike, with Aslef drivers working for 17 rail operators walking about between Monday, January 29 and Tuesday, February 6.

Different railway operators will be affected on different days. Promotional tickets will not be sold for services that may be impacted by the strike.

Rail minister Huw Merriman told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "Each train operator you have one day of industrial action so if you're booking on one particular day that won't be possible, but of course for the other five weeks and six days, you'll be able to make your journey.

"And of course if there is any issues with industrial action then people will be entitled to compensation and rebook as well."

Read more: Fresh series of strikes announced by train drivers' union - see full list of dates

Read more: Relief for commuters as LNER drivers call off five day strike action

Why is the 'Great British Rail Sale' being held on the same days as industrial action?

He added: "For us this is all about growing the railway, and trying to get more people on the railway - but unfortunately Aslef wants to shut people out from using the railway at all.

"So we are keen for this industrial action to come down so we can invest in the future of railway for the passengers, but also for the members of the workforce who are currently on strike".

Discounted services in the sale include:

  • Portsmouth to Penzance – was £43 now £21
  • Birmingham to Bristol – was £30.60 now £15.30
  • Manchester to Leeds – was £8.60 now £4.30
  • Leicester to Sheffield – was £7.30 now £3.60

Mr Merriman added: "All around the country, across the country, there are over a million tickets available on the journey, up to 50% off the journey price, if they are booked - so there's a week to book them, and then travel from February until the middle of March.

"So we hope that people will use the railway to see all that's great about our country, or their friends and family - and that's good for the railway and it helps us to grow it."

Nick Ferrari speaks to rail minister Huw Merriman: Watch again

The government first held the train ticket sale in 2022. Mr Merriman said that 70,000 people who bought tickets had not used the railways before.

He said: "I love my rail journeys, and I like to believe that if people use the railway for the first time then they'll use it again.

"And so it does allow us to introduce people to the railway at these discounted prices. Hopefully they'll have an amazing time and they'll go again."

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group said: "Train travel is the greenest way to explore our towns and cities as well as connect with your family and friends because nothing beats being there in person for those special moments.

"Following the success of the Great British Rail Sale in 2022, we are really excited that it’s coming back, and customers will be able to once again purchase over a million Advance ticket fares starting on 23rd January 2024 and enjoy what rail has to offer."

Sale ticket became available from 12.01am on January 23 on a limited basis. No more will be offered once they are sold out.

Tickets will be sold by online retailers and many station ticket offices, the DfT said.

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) is hosting a page on its website aimed at helping customers find the best deals.

Announcing the train drivers' strikes last week, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said today: "We have given the Government every opportunity to come to the table but it has now been a year since we had any contact from the Department for Transport.

"It's clear they do not want to resolve this dispute.

"Many of our members have not had a single penny increase to their pay for half a decade, during which time inflation has soared and, with it, the cost of living.

"Train drivers didn't even ask for an increase during the Covid-19 pandemic when we worked throughout lockdown as key workers, risking our lives, to move goods around the country and to enable NHS and other workers to get to work.

"The Tory government has now tried its old trick of changing the rules. When they couldn't win they brought in minimum service levels legislation.

"But this new law, as we told officials during the consultation period, won't ease industrial strife. It will just make it worse.

"There is, frankly, no excuse for this nonsense. The Government and train operating companies (TOCs) should come to the table with a realistic offer so we can end this dispute and work together to ensure the future of our railways."

Aslef is set to strike in early February
Aslef is set to strike in early February. Picture: Getty

Train strikes - which companies are affected on which day?

  • Tuesday 30 January: Southeastern, Southern, Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Thameslink, South Western Railway and SWR Island Line
  • Wednesday 31 January: Northern Trains, Transpennine Express
  • Friday 2 February: Greater Anglia, C2C, LNER
  • Saturday 3 February: West Midlands Trains, Avanti West Coast, East Midlands Railway
  • Monday 5 February: Great Western, CrossCountry, Chiltern