Disruption and cancellations for West Midlands passengers as strike begins

There were cancellations, delays and disruption for passengers on one of the busiest railway lines in the country as rail staff began a strike.

Wolverhampton Railway Station on Tuesday
Wolverhampton Railway Station on Tuesday

A picket line being drawn up outside Wolverhampton Railway Station as RMT union members began the biggest nationwide rail strike in more than 30 years on Tuesday morning.

The strike has seen more than 40,000 union members walk out, with further strike days to come on Thursday and Saturday, in a row over job cuts and pay freezes.

It meant that barely a quarter of services were running during the day, with only one service per hour between Wolverhampton and Birmingham and between Wolverhampton and London Euston on the West Coast Mainline.

The picket line near Wolverhampton Railway Station
A second picket line near Wolverhampton Railway Station

There were fewer passengers than normal during the traditional rush hour, with both the 7.50am service to all stops between Wolverhampton and Birmingham and the 8.24am service to London Euston emptier than normal.

People arriving at the station were faced with fewer services to locations such as Crewe and Manchester Picadilly, while other services to places further afield such as Chester and Shrewsbury were not even running.

Passengers arriving at the station were frustrated at the situation, but many seemed to have accepted it and were in support of the unions.

Birmingham New Street station
Wolverhampton Railway Station

One passenger, who asked to remain anonymous, said she supported the workers as she could understand the stress they were under.

She said: "I do agree with them and what they are striking for as they do a lot of hard work and they take a lot of abuse from people, so they should be getting more money.

"It would be nice to see everyone get around the table and get this sorted, but these guys need to stand their ground and fight for what they want, otherwise they'll just get walked all over."

Birmingham New Street station

Ian McNee, Wolverhampton South West Labour chair, had turned up to show his support for the protestors and spoke on behalf of the strikers, explaining why he felt they had to strike.

He said: "Basically, the rail workers have been asked to take almost a 10 per cent pay cut and they've been offered two per cent.

"We're looking at inflation at 11 per cent and which may be more and, for ordinary working people, the rate of inflation is effectively greater because we have to pay more for the house, in transport, food; you know, a bigger proportion of our income.

Passengers board a rail replacement bus to Bristol Temple Meads station, at Birmingham New Street station

"It comes from the Government because the Government had taken the money out of the railway than the private companies are in profits at the moment.

"They're making railway workers pay for the big dividends and profits they paid to all their pals during the pandemic, and that's just not right as these are the people who kept our country going over the pandemic.

Mr McNee also said he felt it was sad it had got to this stage, but said he felt it was the last resort.

Wolverhampton Railway Station

He said: "It's an absolute last resort, but if you look at the ballot results, they've had massive turnout, massive support for strike action, because the unions haven't got anywhere, talking to the employers or trying to engage the Government with this, who are the real villains here If you ask me.

"You see Grant Shapps coming on the radio every day or the telly as the Transport Secretary, playing politics with this and saying, 'Oh, we can't get involved' when he's getting involved by coming on the telly and talking about it. So instead of doing that, why doesn't he come ease the purse strings and sit down with the unions and sort this out?

"The guys on the picket line are very upbeat and they were just saying it's a long time since they've had a strike and the last strike they had really wasn't very well supported, but now it's life or death for these people as people can't put food on the tables and that's what they're facing now, so they've got no choice."

Wolverhampton Railway Station

Political leaders across the region also offered their own views on the strike action.

Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield said the strikes would have an impact on the local economy, but feared industrial action could shortly follow in other job sectors due to the cost of living crisis.

Councillor Brookfield said: "People are suffering, it's a really difficult situation. The Government needs to get its act together now. The Government is going to have to borrow more to help out people who are struggling. There's nothing left for them to squeeze. We really are in a crisis."

Walsall Council Conservative leader Mike Bird has blamed the action on the organisers whom he described as "self-centred" union bosses.

He said: "Walsall is on a busy line going to and from Birmingham with links to London and so have various other boroughs in this area including Wolverhampton and Rugeley. There's going to be a lot of man hours lost.

"We have seen this before in the late 70s. The unions are trying to hold us to ransom. They do not care how much pain and misery they cause people who cannot get where they want to go."

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