Travel chaos to extend into June as rail closures, Coronation and strikes converge
Ahead of the May Day bank holiday weekend – and a week before the Coronation celebrations begin – British travellers are facing mounting chaos.
Engineering work will disrupt key rail lines, while looming industrial action will jeopardise travel plans for passengers into June.
Travellers trying to reach the Eurovision Song Contest and the FA Cup final by rail could find their trains cancelled by a series of national rail strikes that will extend into a 13th month.
Even without industrial action, engineering work will make any long-distance journey on the West Coast main line on Sunday 30 April extremely protracted and complicated.
London Euston is shut all day, with services starting and terminating at Milton Keynes Central.
The direct route linking Stafford, Crewe, Warrington and Preston is also closed, and no trains will run north of Lancaster all day.
Avanti West Coast, the intercity rail operator on the line, says with some understatement: “Some journeys will take longer and may involve a rail replacement bus.” Buses will connect Milton Keynes with Stanmore on the London Underground.
Alternative routes from London via Reading and Oxford to Birmingham are currently closed until 10 June due to a viaduct over the Thames needing urgent repairs.
Other bank holiday weekend closures from Saturday 29 April to Monday 1 May include:
- The main line from Cambridge to London King’s Cross
- CrossCountry trains from Cambridge to Stansted airport.
- The South Western Railway main line between Woking, Basingstoke and Winchester.
- The Gatwick Express will not run on Sunday, but other trains will be available.
- The line from Norwich to Lowestoft (Sunday only).
While no strikes are planned during the Coronation festivities on 6 and 7 May, the main line from London Victoria to Gatwick airport and Brighton is closed; an alternative service is available from London Bridge.
With hundreds of thousands of well-wishers expected to travel to and within the capital to witness the event, there are concerns about the stresses on London’s public transport system.
Long-distance buses running to Victoria Coach station could face diversions and extended journeys because normal routes through Westminster are closed.
On the roads, data collected from the sat-nav service Waze suggests that the traffic rush may begin as early as Wednesday 3 May to get ahead of the weekend festivities.
Staff at HM Passport Office belonging to the PCS union are stepping up industrial action next week as part of a wider civil service pay dispute.
Thursday 4 May sees the resumption of walkouts by security staff belonging to the Unite union. Around 1,400 security officers who work for Heathrow Airport Ltd will walk out for three separate spells: 4-6, 9-10 and 25-27 May.
The union also says: “This will cause inevitable disruption and delays at the airport.” But this round of industrial action follows a 10-day strike from 31 March to Easter Sunday which saw little impact on travellers’ plans.
During that period, British Airways was told by Heathrow to cancel one in 20 flights. Sales of seats on other outbound flights were blocked.
The next tranche of rail strikes appears intended to hit rail passengers trying to reach the Eurovision Song Contest.
The main rail union, the RMT, and the train drivers’ union, Aslef, have called more walkouts in May and June. Staff will stop work at more than a dozen train operators, including all the key long-distance and commuter rail firms.
Aslef members will strike on Friday 12 May, Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June. The union has also imposed an overtime ban on eight days between 13 May and 1 June.
Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said a proposed pay increase of 8 per cent over two years “was clearly not designed to be accepted”.
He said: “The blame for this action lies, fairly and squarely, at the feet of the employers who have forced our hand over this by their intransigence.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “Senselessly targeting both the final of Eurovision and the FA Cup final is disappointing for all those planning to attend.
“After many weeks of negotiations with the Aslef leadership, we made a revised and fair offer.”
The RMT has called a strike by members working at 14 train operators on Saturday 13 May, the day of the Eurovision final.
The union’s general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The RDG have reneged on their original proposals and torpedoed these negotiations.
“No doubt their decision is due to pressure exerted on them by the Tory government. Therefore, we have no alternative but to press ahead with more strike action.”
The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said: “By yet again denying their members a chance to have a say, and then striking over the UK’s first Eurovision event in 25 years – hosted for Ukraine – the RMT are simply further snubbing the very passengers they serve.”
Merseyrail is unaffected and will be running extra trains over the Eurovision weekend – though the network is limited to the Liverpool region as far as Southport and Ormskirk plus the Wirral and Chester.