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UK rail strikes: What to expect and do if you are visiting Britain this week

The railway workers' walkout this week has been called for June 21, 23 and 25, with the possibility that there would be strikes in July as well.

June 22, 2022 / 09:38 PM IST
Apart from the cheaper TfL lines, all UK airports have special train connections which have been badly affected, but are operational. (Representational image: Hola Karlos via Unsplash)

Apart from the cheaper TfL lines, all UK airports have special train connections which have been badly affected, but are operational. (Representational image: Hola Karlos via Unsplash)

If there’s one activity that affects the economy and also has the greatest direct impact on the lives of people, it is transport strikes. England is now in the midst of its biggest train strike in over three decades.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union called for the strikes in disputes over pay, working conditions and job losses. Unlike India, the railway sector is not nationalised in the UK and there are 28 different train operators across the UK. The RMT is the country’s largest transport trade union which has 83,000 members in railways, shipping, buses, and road freight.

The walkout this week has been called for June 21, 23 and 25, with the possibility that there would be strikes in July as well, although no dates have been set. This is because the union says that if demands are not met, travellers must expect six months of industrial action.

(Photo: Danish Khan) (Photo: Danish Khan)

Though the strike in June is for three days, the impact will be felt for the entire week as there will be a cascading effect that will upset travel schedules. Employees of Transport for London (TfL), which is a government body responsible for transport network in London, joined other rail workers only on June 21, disruptions are still expected in London this entire week. Hospitality, high street shops, small businesses are also affected due to the strike.

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The strike presents a huge problem for those travelling to the airports in London as all of them – Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, London City – are served well by trains. But in situation like these, the quicker and cheaper train connectivity becomes a bane from being a boon. Here are some tips if you are flying into London, to help negotiate the strike:

Airport services: Apart from the cheaper TfL lines, all the airports have special train connections which have been badly affected, but are operational. The Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express, Stansted Express, services to Luton are all running, but with the advice to travel only if the journey is absolutely necessary. Well, if you have a flight to catch, you can’t afford to miss, or are landing in the UK that should count as necessary. Be ready for disruption and give plenty of time for the journey.

Buses: The airports are also connected by the National Express, England’s major coach operator. Megabus is another coach operator that offers airport connectivity. They are cheap, efficient, and accept contactless payment, but in the wake of train strikes, prices have been increased. It will be handy to have their apps for latest updates and ease of buying tickets. They won’t be as fast as trains, but far cheaper to travel to cities outside London. If you are going to be in London, then you can make the most of London buses which will of course see added pressure. You can take multiple TfL buses within one hour at the single journey cost of £1.65.

Cabs: This is the moment when cab services see a huge demand accompanied by surge pricing. It is handy to remember that mini-cab services – London has innumerable local cab operators – are generally cheaper than the traditional black cabs. The price difference can be staggering (especially airport transfers) between black cabs and mini-cab services. You can simply google local mini-cab services, and call them to book a cab. You can bargain, if what they quote sounds astronomical. You can also choose from the bigger networks like Uber, Bolt, Ola, Via and others. Prepare to pay surge pricing. Sudden cancellations and longer waiting times are not uncommon right now.

Book a hotel near the airport: Nearly all the airports have hotels catering to different budgets. If possible, book a hotel close to the airport where you will land, especially if you are travelling with several members. This would mean a shorter cab drive to your hotel, and once you have dumped your luggage, it would be far easier (and cheaper) to explore the city or make your appointment.
Danish Khan is a London-based independent journalist and author of 'Escaped: True Stories of Indian fugitives in London'. He is researching Indian capitalism at University of Oxford.
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