Express & Star

First of two 48 hour rail strikes cause chaos and confusion

The first of the festive train strikes by the RMT caused chaos and hit businesses in their pocket in the busiest time of the year.

Wolverhampton TUC outside Wolverhampton Railway Station

There were picket lines outside railway stations across the Black Country and Staffordshire as the first of two 48 hour strikes began on Tuesday morning.

Taxis were overwhelmed and Uber increased its prices as people desperately tried to get work or longstanding appointments.

Wolverhampton, Stourbridge, Cradley Heath, Oldbury and Stafford town centre all had fewer shoppers spending money in shops than none-strike days.

A shop assistant in the Mander Centre, who did not want to be named, said: "We've not got as many customers as usual but we are not dead as the bosses were fearing, but this is supposed to be the busiest time of the year."

The Black Country Chamber of Commerce refused to comment about the industrial action.

However, Leanne Giblin, who is a member of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: "The strikes are affecting people getting into work, which obviously causes businesses problems.

"People seem to be staying local when the strikes happen, so it is effecting the bigger towns and cities like Wolverhampton and Birmingham."

She added: "But we run two pubs in Lichfield and our trade is going great because people seem to be staying local and it seems like Christmas has come early."

The strikes are the in the middle of the Christmas party season forcing many to either cancel or postpone the events.

Stourbridge office worker Steven Daniels, aged 45, said: "We've had to cancel our Christmas party because six out of ten of us were getting into Stourbridge by train and home again.

"The cost of a taxi or Uber there and back will triple the amount of money I was planning to spend so we have put it off until next week when there is not a strike."

At 1.40pm on Tuesday a broken down tram caused the Midlands Metro to be suspended between Wolverhampton and Wednesbury.

With train services cancelled the Metro had been a lifeline for commuters in the Black Country and Midlands Metro Alliance were forced to put "a shuttle" on between Wolverhampton and Wednesbury.

More than 30 unionists picketed Wolverhampton Railway Station supporting striking RMT rail workers.

Wolverhampton TUC tweeted: "Wolverhampton #RMT 48hr railway strike started today. Strength and warmth in numbers."

At New Street Station crowds of people were shocked to see doors closed around 8am.

Janice Akkai was confused, she said: "I know there is a strike but I thought there would be some trains running but I can't even get into the station, I need to check up on my mother in Staffordshire and cannot afford a taxi there. They cannot keep doing this to people, why cannot both sides compromise like everyone else has to do in their lives."

But with further walkouts planned, Network Rail has warned there will be significantly reduced services, with trains more crowded and likely to start later and finish earlier until January 8.

Asked if there is a glimmer of hope in the negotiations, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines told BBC Breakfast: "It's hard to see that today. I've learned, you know, through a long career, that sometimes the light is just around the corner.

"But where I stand today, I'd have to say that with the level of disruption the RMT are imposing, the way forward isn't obvious."

But Transport Secretary Mark Harper said "almost 40 per cent" of RMT members at Network Rail voted in favour of an offer to resolve the dispute despite "a very clear instruction from their union leadership".

General secretary Mick Lynch apologised for the disruption caused to passengers.

He said: "I believe we could have worked towards a settlement a couple of weeks ago until that was undermined by the stance that certain people have taken.

"So we do apologise and we hope that people can amend their plans and get to where they need to go during this period, but they can be assured that we're working to try and get an agreement so that we can end this dispute."

Network Rail had offered a 5 per cent pay rise for this year - backdated to January - with another 4 per cent at the start of 2023 and a guarantee of no compulsory job losses until January 2025.

The RMT's executive recommended rejecting the offer, saying it was linked to "significant" changes to working practices.

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