COMMUTERS have been warned NOT to travel today as millions are hit by a 24-hour rail walkout.
Only around one in five trains will run on Wednesday, with some areas having no trains all day in the action set to cripple the country.
More walkouts are expected in the coming days, with a wave of industrial action planned next month on the railways and London Underground.
Today, picket lines mounted outside train stations first thing as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 14 train operators went on strike.
And passengers were urged not to travel by train unless absolutely necessary, with rail bosses urging them to leave extra time for their journeys.
A warning on the Network Rail website warns: “Due to industrial action, you will experience disruption to your rail journey.
“You should plan ahead and only travel if necessary.”
Stations across the country were eerily quiet first thing, with just a few dozen passengers dotted around London’s Waterloo during the early morning rush hour.
Boards at Birmingham New Street – where passengers are expected to flock to the Commonwealth Games starting tomorrow – showed the first train to London Euston was not due to leave until 8.50am.
Meanwhile, Great Western Railway is running a “significantly limited service” today and says no rail services will operate on “all lines in Cornwall”.
A limited number of trains are also running on key routes in Scotland.
And ferry operator P&O Ferries warned passengers of “major queues” and a two-hour wait to complete checks before they can board a ship.
One woman who was unable to attend her uncle’s funeral because of the disruption.
Jen, from Havant, Hants., who did not want her last name published, was meant to travel from Portsmouth to Spalding in Lincs., today but the strike forced her to watch the service remotely.
The 42-year-old told the PA news agency: “I would also like a pay rise in line with inflation but in reality that won’t happen. I don’t choose to mess around with people’s lives because of it.
“And it angers me when they say ‘Oh, just work from home’ or ‘Just travel on a different day’ because people don’t ‘only’ travel for trivial reasons. I won’t get this day back.”
Swedish football fans Rebecka Ronnegard, 26, and Felix Nystrom, 27, were delayed at Sheffield station after watching the Euro 2022 semi-final at Bramall Lane on Tuesday.
It angers me when they say ‘Oh, just work from home’ or ‘Just travel on a different day’ because people don’t ‘only’ travel for trivial reasons. I won’t get this day back.
They are hoping to get to Milton Keynes for the Germany and France semi-final.
But Ms Ronnegard, told the BBC: “There is a train to Birmingham where we can change to go to Milton Keynes so that’s what we’re hoping to do, that was our plan. But right now I feel like if we get to Birmingham we’re lucky.”
She added: “I support the workers, I really do. It’s just unlucky that it affects us. I support the workers and I hope they can come to an agreement.”
The chaos is expected to continue into Thursday morning with a later start to services as employees return to duties.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has also announced a strike by its members at Avanti West Coast on Wednesday, while members of the drivers union Aslef at seven companies will strike on Saturday.
It comes as disputes in the bitter row over jobs, pay, pensions and conditions worsen.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said union members were more determined than ever to secure a decent pay rise, job security and good working conditions.
He said: “Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new.
“In fact, Network Rail have upped the ante, threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50% cuts to maintenance work if we did not withdraw our planned strike action.”
He added: “RMT will continue to negotiate in good faith but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone.
“The Government need to stop their interference in this dispute so the rail employers can come to a negotiated settlement with us.”
Mr Lynch has said he will seek another six-month mandate for walkouts when the current one expires towards the end of the year, with strikes spilling into early next summer possible.
And speaking on Good Morning Britain this morning, he urged Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to join him “around the negotiating table” as early as this afternoon, insisting he is the “person responsible” for helping the unions secure a deal.
Mr Shapps was quick to hit back, describing calls for him to join negotiations to resolve rail strikes “a game by the unions”.
He told Sky News: “It’s just a game by the unions. It’s a complete red herring as well, by the way, and it’s simply not how strikes are resolved.
“It can only ever be the employer, in this case Network Rail, the train operating companies and the unions.”
He went on: “We have to have this modernisation. It’s there to be sorted out and therefore a pay rise can be had as well, but I’m afraid the unions have been incredibly militant about this.”
Mr Lynch last night vowed to drag the “entire trade union movement” into a 1926-style mass walkout if they are prevented from paralysing the economy.
He also opened the door to rail strikes continuing into next summer.
Meanwhile Mr Shapps said in his three years as Transport Secretary there has not been a single day when unions have not been in dispute by threatening or taking industrial action, with around 60 separate disputes in 2022 alone.
“Today, union bosses are once again trying to cause as much disruption as possible to the day-to-day lives of millions of hardworking people around the country,” he said.
“What’s more, it has been cynically timed to disrupt the start of the Commonwealth Games and crucial Euro 2022 semi-finals, in a deliberate bid to impact the travel of thousands trying to attend events the whole country is looking forward to.”
He said taxpayers stumped up £600 per household to ensure “not a single rail worker lost their job during the pandemic,” adding those same people will be forced into losing a day’s wages “through no fault of their own but because of stubborn union leaders’ refusals to modernise”.
Mr Shapps added: “Unfortunately, it’s too late to call off today’s damaging strikes but I urge the RMT, and indeed all unions, to stop holding the country to ransom with the threat of further industrial action and get off picket lines and back round the negotiating table.
“If not, we risk passengers turning their backs on the railway for good.”
It came after Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss said she would impose strike restrictions on rail workers to keep Britain moving.
Lynch, whose union has rejected a Network Rail pay offer worth eight per cent without consulting members, claimed such a move would “make effective trade unionism illegal”.
He ranted: “If these proposals become law, there will be the biggest resistance mounted by the entire trade union movement, rivalling the general strike of 1926.”
He added that two-week rail staff walkouts may follow this year “if we don’t get the deal we need”.
Lynch also said he’ll seek another six-month strike mandate when the current one ends, raising the spectre of strikes into next summer.
Some 40,000 rail workers from 14 train operators will walk out today, with 80 per cent of train services set to be cancelled.
Train drivers’ union ASLEF is to strike on Saturday.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “It’s now clearer than ever that the RMT has no interest in engaging in constructive discussions and is hell-bent on creating further misery for passengers across the UK.
“This action is a cynically timed attempt to derail the start of the Commonwealth Games, one of the first major events the country has been able to look forward to since the pandemic.”
Members of the RMT and TSSA will launch coordinated strikes on August 18 and 20, while the RMT announced a strike on London Underground on August 19.
Heathrow TikTok rap
HEATHROW boss John Holland Kaye blamed TikTok for adding to the chaos at the airport.
He said demand shot up after a user of the app faked an injury to get wheelchair assistance and a fast-track on to a flight.
The chief executive said: “That is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing. Please don’t do that.”
He also blamed security delays on passengers trying to take through too much make-up.
He said many did not realise some cosmetics, such as mascara, must go in the one-litre transparent bag allowed for liquids.