'We’re doing everything we can to avoid strikes': Rail chief’s pledge to passengers

8 June 2022, 18:33 | Updated: 8 June 2022, 18:45

By Daisy Stephens

A Network Rail boss leading negotiations ahead of the biggest strike in decades has told LBC he is doing "everything we possibly can" to avoid a looming three-day walkout that could bring disruption to millions of commuters.

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Tim Shoveller, Managing Director of Network Rail in the North West and Central Region, who has been leading the talks with the RMT, told Tonight with Andrew Marr talks with unions had not been "aggressive" and the two groups needed to be able to work together to "rework through the challenges" the railway industry faces.

"As we stand here today yes, those strikes are planned," he said when Andrew asked if the planned action was going ahead.

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"And whilst we are planning to talk again later this week with the RMT, and we will do everything we possibly can to avoid causing disruption to travelling passengers, and the damage to the economy... ultimately it's not something that we can achieve on our own.

"We can only do this in partnership."

Rail workers have been offered a two per cent pay rise, but many have argued it is not enough in the face of inflation of between nine and 10 per cent.

When asked specifically about the issue of pay, Mr Shoveller said he "can absolutely understand" financial pressures as a result of the cost of living crisis but said the railway had been hugely subsidised throughout the pandemic and highlighted the financial burden of a large pay rise on the company.

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"A pay rise is going to cost, for Network Rail alone, about £50m a year for every one per cent that we pay," he said.

"So we've got to find a way of generating that cash, and a way we can do that is by working more efficiently with the people that we've got... that's the debate we need with the trade union.

"What we can't do is ask the taxpayer for more, and we can't ask passengers for more.

"So we can only do this if we're more efficient with what we've already got."

Rail workers are staging the biggest walkout in 30 years later this month.

Around 50,000 members of the RMT will go on strike on June 21, 23 and 25.

The union says it will be the biggest strike on the railways since 1989.

Read more: Summer plans scuppered? Gigs, festivals, sport and GCSEs hit in biggest rail strike since '89