Ten hours before the latest round of national rail strikes was due to begin, the RMT union has called off the action. But widespread disruption is expected for the coming days as rosters were drawn assuming the walk-outs would go ahead.
Strikes had been planned by staff working for Network Rail on 5, 7 and 9 November, with staff at 14 train operators stopping work on 5 and 9 November.
But shortly before the first strike-related train cancellations were due to begin, the RMT said it “will now enter into a period of intensive negotiations with Network Rail and the train operating companies”.
The statement read: “Through a strong industrial campaign so far, RMT has secured unconditional talks on Network Rail and the promise of an offer from the train operating companies who up until this point, have made no offer of any kind to our members.
“Originally Network Rail was intent on imposing changes to maintenance without agreement with RMT.”
But the union said: “The current dispute remains very much live, and the union is continuing its re-ballot of members to secure a fresh mandate for action with the result due on 15 November.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “It is positive that the RMT leadership have stepped back from the brink and called off their strike action.
“Unfortunately, the late notice means that while train companies are working hard to reinstate services, they will remain severely disrupted for our passengers tomorrow and into the early part of next week.
“We remain committed to intensive negotiations to agree the reforms needed to improve reliability, deliver a pay rise for our people and get the industry back on a sustainable financial footing.”
“Our advice remains to please check before you travel and on Saturday and Monday and only travel by rail if absolutely necessary.”
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “It’s welcome news that the RMT has called off its strikes but the very late notice means that services for tomorrow cannot be reinstated and will remain extremely limited, and while we, and our train company partners, will work without pause over the weekend, there will be limited ability to change the ‘strike timetable’ for Monday.”
The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “The threat of strike action and our strongly supported industrial campaign has made the rail employers see sense.
“We have always wanted to secure a negotiated settlement and that is what we will continue to push for in this next phase of intensive talks.
“Our priority is our members, and we are working towards securing a deal on job security, a decent pay rise and good working conditions.
“Our re-ballot remains live and if we have to take strike action during the next six months to secure a deal, we will.”
Half the rail network was expected to be closed on 5, 7 and 9 November, with knock-on effects
The sudden change has come shortly after the new the transport secretary, Mark Harper, and rail minister, Huw Merriman, took up their roles at the Department for Transport.
Mr Harper said: “This is a positive development for passengers up and down the country but the very late notice means, unfortunately, there will still be significant disruption across the network tomorrow and into Monday.
“We encourage unions and employers to continue their negotiations and calling off these strikes has given those talks a better chance of success.
“It is vital, for passengers and workers alike, that all parties continue to work together and deliver a modern railway we can all be proud of.”
Disputes continue between the train drivers’ union, Aslef, and a number of train operators. In addition, the white-collar union, the TSSA, is involved in disputes.