Rail union boss warns strikes could last for five years

Transport Secretary Mark Harper condemns rail strikes around Eurovision weekend

Rail strikes that are crippling the nation’s transport system and hitting the economy could last for five years, a union boss warned.

Walkouts brought many services to a halt on Saturday, disrupting journeys to the FA Cup Final and Epsom Derby.

Fans going to see pop queen Beyonce’s gig at the Tottenham Hotspur ­stadium in north London on Saturday night were also hit.

It came as nine in 10 people believe that the £65,000 pay deal offered to train drivers is either fair or overly generous.

The offer would bring average salaries up from £60,000 over two years but this was rejected as “risible” by the Aslef union’s executive committee.

A Sunday Express poll found an overwhelming majority of the public think ­drivers have been offered enough, with 49 percent saying the proposed deal is “fair” and 41 percent saying it is “too much”.

Just 10 percent think drivers should receive more, the survey by Omnisis found.

Members of rail union the RMT are also continuing their walkouts.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper condemned the “unreasonable” unions as he highlighted research showing weekend rail strikes will cost the economy millions.

He said: “Hundreds of thousands of fans attending the FA Cup Final, Epsom Derby and music concerts saw travel plans disrupted by unnecessary industrial action.

“Pubs and other venues facing cancelled bookings were left footing a bill of over £130million, according to UK Hospitality.” Calling the £65,000 pay deal a “good offer”, he insisted: “This Government has done its bit to try to resolve these disputes.”

But Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan vowed that industrial action would continue: “We are in this if it takes us four years, five years, whatever it is, to get a resolution.”

Around six in 10 trains were cancelled on Saturday. There were wide regional variations, with some operators shut down entirely.

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Walkouts affected fans travelling to Wembley for the clash between Manchester City and Manchester United. And one Red Devils fan who spent £300 to reach the game – only to see his team lose 2-1 – described the strikes as a “nightmare”.

Marty Harris, 46, from Edinburgh, got up at 4am Saturday to fly to Birmingham. He drove to Watford, then took a car-share and Tube with his son. He said: “It was torture, absolute torture.”

Journalist Phil Annets, an FA Cup expert who wrote for the match programme, set off from his South Oxfordshire home at 10am.

The 58-year-old said: “The people suffering are not involved – the strikers are targeting the wrong people. It’s vindictive to try to affect as many people as possible.”

Lee Anderson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, agreed. “Ordinary Brits are once again being held hostage by these striking cartels,” the MP for Ashfield said.

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