NYE rail travel chaos warning for passengers amid strikes and Omicron staff crisis

31 December 2021, 11:59

Rail passengers will face major disruption on New Year's Eve
Rail passengers will face major disruption on New Year's Eve. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Train passengers travelling on New Year's Eve face major disruption due to a combination of Omicron and planned industrial action.

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The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said a 24-hour strike by its members employed by CrossCountry was "solidly supported", causing the majority of the operator's services to be cancelled on the last night of the year.

The walkout is over a dispute between train managers and senior conductors about the role of train guards.

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RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "The disruption to services from the New Year's Eve strike action is wholly down to these greedy private companies on our railways seeking to squeeze out every penny they can by hammering down on safety, jobs and workplace dignity.

"Our members at CrossCountry and Gate Gourmet are standing up for all rail workers as we expect a torrent of attacks on jobs, pay, safety, pensions and working conditions in 2022.

"We are ready for a new year of campaigning and action on all fronts."

The disruption from strikes is coupled with chaos caused by the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

At least eight operators have either already reduced frequencies on many routes or will do so in the coming days in response to pandemic-related staff shortages.

A spokesman for industry body the Rail Delivery Group said operators are "working hard to provide a reliable train service" amid reduced staff numbers.

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He continued: "Some rail companies are introducing amended timetables owing to much less demand for train services.

"This could mean short-notice cancellations and changes for customers, so our advice to anyone travelling is to check online before they set out or to sign up for automatic alerts from National Rail Alert Me."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said services were right to rearrange timetables but it was essential that key workers were still able to travel.

"This is a pragmatic response to rising staff illness," he said.

"But services must meet the needs of those who still have to travel, especially key sector workers.

"These include protecting first and last services, providing enough capacity to keep passengers at a safe distance from each other and making the new timetable reliable and the information accurate."

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The rail disruption extends across the UK, with ScotRail introducing a temporary week-day timetable from Tuesday until January 28 to deal with Omicron-related staff shortages.

More than 150 daily services will be cut, including on routes such as Glasgow to Edinburgh via Airdrie/Bathgate; Glasgow Central to Lanark; Edinburgh to North Berwick; and Edinburgh to Tweedbank.

South Western Railway (SWR) announced it will operate a new timetable from January 17 as the Omicron variant has had a "significant impact on our services".

The operator said in a statement: "Our focus is on producing a timetable that is deliverable so that we improve reliability for our customers, and caters to key workers, school pupils and those who cannot work from home."

It has not revealed which services are being cut.

Greater Anglia announced it will not operate approximately 70 week day services next week due to a combination of "falling passenger numbers" and staff shortages.

This will affect routes such as Norwich to London Liverpool Street; Colchester to Ipswich; Cambridge to Ipswich; and Norwich to Great Yarmouth.

Southern announced on Thursday it will not serve London Victoria - one of the UK's busiest stations - until January 10 due to "coronavirus isolation and sickness".

Great Northern, Thameslink and Hull Trains have also unveiled reduced timetables.

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CrossCountry has removed around 50 trains from its timetables between Mondays and Saturdays from December 27 until January 8.

The operator said passengers were "strongly advised to alter their plans and avoid travel".

It is not operating any trains between the following locations:

  • Aberdeen and Edinburgh
  • Glasgow Central and Edinburgh
  • Derby and Nottingham
  • Peterborough and Stansted
  • Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central
  • Newton Abbot and Paignton
  • Plymouth and Penzance

A "heavily reduced service" is in place between Edinburgh and Plymouth; Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth; and Birmingham New Street and Peterborough.