UK rail services severely disrupted amid widespread strike action by workers

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By Mark Armstrong  with AFP
Members of the RMT union on a picket line outside Euston Station in London
Members of the RMT union on a picket line outside Euston Station in London   -   Copyright  AFP

Many of Britain's railway stations were once again practically deserted again on Tuesday as tens of thousands of workers started a fresh round of strikes after the Christmas break.

Around half of the UK's railway lines were closed with only a fifth of services running.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union are at loggerheads with the rail companies and government over pay and working conditions.

Passengers are frustrated, although some are also sympathetic to the workers' demands.

"Well, it's really inconvenient for us, but this is about their livelihoods and it's about safety," said one regular passenger in London. "So we are impacted as people who travel on trains and it's uncomfortable and difficult, but it already is difficult because of the way that the management have treated them. I think they should at least speak to them and respect them as workers who deserve a living wage."

Other people were not so supportive. 

"I've got no support for them whatsoever. No sympathy. NHS absolutely, the RMT and obviously that Mick Lynch is on 120,000 (pounds sterling) a year. He won't lose any pay today."

Mick Lynch is the Secretary-General of the RMT Union, but he insists the blame for the stalemate is down to the government.

"We gave them three weeks notice ahead of this wave of action, they took no measures to broker a deal or to get a settlement, which is really disappointing for us and I'm sure it's disappointing for the public as well," he explained. "But the government holds the key to this and they're not willing to use it at the moment. "

The UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper urged union leaders to come to the negotiating table and said the government has offered a “very fair pay offer.” 

More strikes are planned for the rest of the week with the main train drivers' union ASLEF also due to walk out.