Planned strikes this week and next by Network Rail workers could mean up to nine days without rail freight deliveries across Britain, warns the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
Talks between the conciliation service Acas and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are now in their fourth day and transport customers have already planned to re-route rail freight deliveries by road in case the industrial action goes ahead.
RMT signallers and maintenance staff plan to walk out for 24 hours from 5pm on Thursday, and again a week later.
While Network Rail should be able to deploy contingent signallers on a Key Route Strategy to limit the effect of the strike action on the travelling public, the different requirements for running freight trains will lead to a significantly greater impact on the logistics industry.
The industrial action is planned as follows:
Full strike action:17.00 hours on Thursday 4th June 2015 to 16.59 hours Friday 5th June 2015
17.00 hours on Tuesday 9th June 2015 to 16.59 hours Thursday 11th June 2015
Overtime ban and work to rule: 00.01 hours on Saturday 6th June 2015 to 23.59 Friday 12th June 2015
FTA’s Rail Freight Policy Manager Chris MacRae said:
“Events like this inevitably grab the media headlines about their effects on the travelling public. What must not be forgotten is the effect on freight. Rail plays an increasingly important part in the major import flows of consumer goods from our ports to distribution centres for onward delivery to the shops.”
Rail plays a key role in transport of export goods to foreign markets via the main container ports, and vast quantities of construction materials for major projects are transported by rail, as well as coal to power stations.
Mr MacRae added:
“Industrial action like this is as regrettable as it has been rare, and it highlights the importance of rail freight in the British economy. It is also important to remember that while the last industrial action was called off before it took place, freight traffic had already been re-planned for road and could not be reversed so disruption took place even though the strike did not. That is the danger again this time. ”
FTA is engaged in developing the ‘Agenda for More Freight by Rail’ that sets out the industry challenges set by major shippers for rail to win more freight market share from other modes of transport.