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Rail strikes spell Glastonbury travel trouble – and small events fear ‘catastophe’

A national strike across Britain’s railways will have a catastrophic effect on the live music and events industry if it goes ahead later this summer, trade bodies have warned.

More than 50,000 workers at Network Rail and 13 train companies, represented by the RMT union, are set to walk out on 21 June in a dispute over job cuts and pay freezes, with further strikes planned for 23 June and 25 June.

About 10,000 London Underground workers are also set to strike on 21 June in a separate dispute over pensions and job losses. The strikes are expected to cause severe disruption and come at the height of festival season, with Glastonbury taking place in Somerset from 22 June for the first time since the pandemic.

GWR, the train company serving Castle Cary, the station closest to Glastonbury, has said it hopes to maintain timetabled trains from London Paddington throughout the festival. But it said other parts of its network were likely to be “more affected” by the strike action and that customers “may need to consider alternative ways to travel to a station serving Castle Cary”.

National Express, which is providing coaches from 70 locations, said it had seen a “significant increase” in bookings for travel on the dates of the planned rail strikes and was “working hard to increase availability where possible”.

Other events, including a concert series with artists including Elton John at Hyde Park and the UK Athletics Championships in Manchester, are also scheduled for that week.

Michael Kill, from the Night Time Industries Association, which represents nightclubs, event venues and festival organisers said the proposed industrial action could have a “catastrophic” impact on the sector, which he said was “very fragile” following the pandemic and amid the cost of living crisis. “It just seems like at every corner there’s another barrier,” he said.

RMT members protest outside St Pancras station during a Tube strike in London on 6 June 2022.
RMT members protest outside St Pancras station during a Tube strike in London on 6 June 2022. Photograph: Vuk Valcic/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Jon Collins, chief executive of Live, an umbrella body for trade associations in the live music and entertainment business, said the action could be devastating for event operators already struggling to recover from the pandemic, with smaller businesses likely to be hardest hit.

“While our members are understanding of the RMT’s concerns, there’s a frustration that this has come at a time when we’re trying to rebuild the live music industry after almost two years of closure,” he said.

“It’s not just the Glastonburys of this world. It’s the smaller festivals and gigs, where people have paid £8 or £15 for a ticket, where customers may think, ‘I’m going to have to not go.’ That means the event may go ahead but you may not make the profit you were hoping for, which could be business-critical in this year of all years.”

Announcing the strike on 7 June, the RMT said railway workers had been treated “appallingly” and that despite its “best efforts” in negotiations, “the rail industry, with the support of the government, has failed to take their concerns seriously”.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, while fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic. This unfairness is fuelling our members’ anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.

“RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways.”