Rail unions are drawing up plans for a national strike as job cuts loom across the industry.
The RMT is preparing to ballot its members for industrial action, with the union anticipating compulsory redundancies are highly probable at train operating companies and Network Rail.
Such redundancies would mean “trains are coming to a halt”, said the TSSA union after it failed to get assurances over jobs.
Unions have been in talks since June over plans to reduce costs in the industry. While broad voluntary redundancy schemes have been introduced, negotiations have taken place under an agreement to rule out forced job cuts until 31 December. Pay rises are also yet to be agreed, with inflation rising rapidly.
Train operators have been told by the government to find savings of 10% in revised business plans while protecting services. With large fixed costs in rolling stock and rail access, cutting staff or reducing terms and conditions remains a probable target for savings.
An RMT spokesperson said: “We’re very clear on the direction of travel, that a massive jobs cull is coming at train operators and Network Rail are coming, as well as an attack on pay and pensions. We’re getting our tanks on the lawn right now”
Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA, said: “Any attempt to use compulsory redundancies will be seen as a declaration of war and trains will be coming to a halt.
“Our members are already righty angry that having been hailed as heroes for keeping our country moving during the pandemic, they are now facing job cuts. Despite putting themselves on the line through the pandemic, the vast majority of them saw their income fall in real terms as they did not get a pay increase for 2021.”
He added that without a guarantee to avoid compulsory redundancies in 2022 and of a pay rise in line with inflation, “ballots for industrial action will follow as swiftly as night follows day”.
Rail passenger numbers have dropped back from about 70% of pre-Covid levels to just over 60% since warnings over the Omicron variant began. Expected government advice to work from home is likely to reduce passenger revenues further.
According to official figures published last week, the Treasury spent an additional £6.5bn on running the railway in 2020-21, to cover lost fare revenue during the pandemic.
Strikes may also follow in London, where Transport for London has announced plans to reduce headcount, but so far only through not replacing departing staff.
Unions have accused the government of “engineering the crisis” at TfL by refusing to fund it sufficiently, to the point where bosses have warned of a “bleak future” of “managed decline”.
But the minister for London Paul Scully said on Tuesday that the government would provide “more than enough money to keep services running at their current levels”, as sources suggested there was a deal ready ahead of the 11 December deadline when funding expires.
TfL has asked for £500m to cover lost income for the rest of the financial year. Government sources said the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had yet to come up with promised plans to raise income and suggested that £300m would cover fare losses – although the plan B measures expected to be announced soon, such as restricting socialising and office working, could yet cut passenger numbers and income further.