Published: 07:59, 21 June 2022
| Updated: 15:00, 21 June 2022
Additional reporting by Chantal Weller and Lauren Abbott
As the first day of a national rail strike gets underway our reporters headed to Ashford International to see how people are battling their ways to work on one of the county's only trains.
People in Kent are being urged not to travel as more than 40,000 workers walk out for three days of industrial action. But at Ashford International and Ebbsfleet services are still running into London.
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Outside the station a group in high-vis jackets had set up a picket.
Regular high-speed trains are heading to Kings Cross St Pancras around every 15 minutes and are running on time.
For £77.90 our reporter boarded the peak time service to St Pancras International.
But having spent two years working from home it appeared most people had opted not to travel, with the 7.48am resembling a ghost train.
The woman at the ticket office told our reporter to leave plenty of time to get the last service back, as a skeleton team staffed the usually bustling commuter hub.
Bricklayer Geoff Pasifull, 50, from Sellindge, said: "I need to work, if I don't work I don't get paid.
"Obviously there's no tubes either so then I have to get the bus. I'm not very happy.
"I don't really agree with the strike, nurses and doctors are more deserving plus they've had billions from the government and a lot were on furlough so how does that work?
"I'm two hours late. I usually get 4.51 from Westenhanger but this was the first train. My employer has been understanding but it's a waste of a day.
"Also I don't appreciate turning up to see them picketing outside. I think it's rubbing it in. It's ridiculous everyone wants a pay rise but I don't think it's practical at the moment."
Plumber Frank Woods, 56, from South Ashford, runs a team of 30 and said: "If I don't go in I've got 30 blokes who can't work today.
"I'm usually there for 7am so it's an hour and a half. It's a bit awkward but at least people will be able to work.
"I usually get the 6.16am but this was the first one. A lot of people have lost money today because they can't get in. It's going to cause a lot of self employed people a lot of grief. That's the knock on impact of the strike. You can't put pipes in from sitting indoors.
"I don't understand it. It's a bit selfish from my point of view. If it's for safety reasons I might understand but it doesn't seem to be. I understand people want there fair share of the cake but doctors, nurses, teachers... there are all affected as well."
Visual merchandiser Catherine Xu usually gets a train from Canterbury straight to Stratford but her journey has not been so straightforward this morning.
The 29-year-old said: "I can't not go to work otherwise I won't get paid.
"My work is physically at the store, there is no way for me to do it from home.
"I had to get a taxi to Ashford from Canterbury and then I had to get this train into London so it has already had a big impact.
"I usually start at 7am but this was the first train I could get. Work is very understanding but the trains for tomorrow are even worse for me.
"The first train leaving from Canterbury to Ashford is going to be at midday which is four hours into my shift.
"I will have to do the same as today, get a taxi then a train into London.
"I think the strikes are ridiculous. If it was one day I would understand but it's constantly one day after another and it has a huge impact on my whole week."
Billy Mackenzie, from Willesborough, who works for an American law firm, would normally travel into London Bridge but this morning he had to upgrade his ticket to the high speed just to get to work.
He said: "I have to do it from time to time so it's not a problem.
"It does impact a lot of people but it is what it is. As long as I can get to work and do the hours I normally do it's not a problem.
"I don't really have an opinion on the strikes, it's entirely up to them, but personally if I was their boss I would sack them all, including the transport secretary because he just hasn't got a clue."
Alicia Andrews, the commercial director of Southeastern, said: "We are running a limited service for 12 operating hours between 7.48am and 5.33pm. It's a controlled method for people who do need to travel. The first train was slightly quieter than we might have expected.
"We've encouraged everyone who can to replan but understand some need to travel. We understand it is inconvenient.
"It's difficult to speculate about how long this will go on for. The cost is difficult to calculate at this point. The government has put about £16 billion into the railway throughout the pandemic and we really want to work with our colleagues to find a resolution to this dispute. We want to give them a pay rise."
But our reporter encountered issues on one of the few trains back to Ashford.
It was supposed to leave at 9.49am but the driver had only just arrived at 10.10am and said it would leave by 10.15am, heading straight to Ashford and skipping Stratford and Ebbsfleet.
Outside Ashford International members of the RMT union were protesting.
Nick said: "We're on strike because we believe that our pensions should be protected. We believe that we shouldn't have any job losses because 3,000 job losses are going to happen. We haven't had a pay rise for three years.
"Hopefully this will send a message to this government. We don't believe they will do anything.
"We don't want to be here, no one does."
Martin added: "If you get rid of jobs it makes the network more unsafe."
Once commuters got to London they faced further disruption as tube staff have also walked out.
At St Pancras the underground is cordoned off.
Elsewhere in Kent stations have been sealed off and gates locked shut.
A group of workers from the RMT union were spotted protesting outside Dartford station this morning where a steady flow of commuters were attempting to catch one of the reduced timetable services travelling from Dartford to London Bridge.
Among those commuters caught up in the strikes was lab worker Sangam Gurung who was in a race against time to get to work.
The 38-year-old physiologist said: "It has been a little bit difficult to reach my work at Guy's St Thomas on time.
"There are trains but most are not running so I'm planning to get the next one."
Chris Waterton, 44, was also hoping to catch a train to the capital this morning and had travelled to the commuter town from Swanley due to the strikes.
The city worker said: "It is a massive disruption. I live in Swanley so coming over to here is a bit of a pain."
Despite the disruption he was sympathetic towards the industrial action, adding: "I feel for these guys. I work for a union representing professionals so I know what it is all about."
In a separate dispute over pensions and job losses London Underground RMT members are set to join the strike today, with people urged to avoid the tube until tomorrow afternoon.
Everything you need to know about the strike
Described as the biggest dispute on the network for more than 30 years, the RMT union says it's 'shut down' the country's railways as its members protest against pay freezes and job cuts.
There will be strikes on Thursday and Saturday but there will be severe disruption all week.
Southeastern has told people not to travel on any of the days as the majority of trains will not be running and most stations will be closed.
Parts of the railway line in Kent will in fact be closed until Wednesday afternoon due to ongoing staffing issues caused by strikes.
Though many of the stations affected are smaller and more rural, such as Martin Mill near Deal, some larger stations such as Ramsgate and Canterbury East and West, which are on the high speed route to London Victoria, will also be affected.
The number of Kent's railway stations which will not have any rail service until Wednesday afternoon is 40.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The area is supplied with power by a local electrical control office that we know will have some unique staffing issues on Wednesday, due to the rail strike.
“Safety checks on the power supply to trains – called continuity tests – will have to be done from the morning.
“This is to make sure all electrical supplies are operating correctly before trains run. Not doing these checks could lead to trains becoming stranded with no power on a hot day, which would be an unacceptable risk.
“We are working with Southeastern to reintroduce trains on a line-by-line basis, working round east Kent.
“This will take around seven hours and we urge passengers to check before they travel on the day."
Yesterday afternoon, the RMT union confirmed the rail strikes would go ahead after last-ditch talks failed to resolve the row over pay, jobs and conditions.
There are also concerns the strikes could impact pupils due to take their GCSEs this week if they cannot catch a train to school.
Edward Wesson, headmaster of Skinners School in Tunbridge Wells, said: "Yes, we are fearful as a large number come to school by train, but we have communicated to parents that they must prioritise other means of transport on June 21 and 23, particularly those taking public exams.
"The exam boards give us some flexibility but it is not unlimited."
A Maidstone Grammar School for Boys spokesman added: "We gave parents notification last week and have asked that they consider alternative travel arrangements particularly for exam students to travel by alternative means.
"Only 5% of our students travel by train so hopefully alternative methods can be found this week."
Other schools said their pupils would not be significantly impacted.
Exam takers at Invicta Grammar School for Girls in Maidstone asked any pupils having trouble arranging alternative travel to let staff know, but a spokesman said no one had raised any issues.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone said: "We’re not expecting any significant issues as fortunately the vast majority of those who travel in do so by bus."
It was a similar story for schools in the Canterbury area.
When are the strikes?
The three strikes, each one lasting 24 hours, will take place from today, (Tuesday, June 21) and again on Thursday, June 23 and Saturday, June 25.
And the further strike by London Underground union members is also also happening today and will add to the disruption.
Which railway workers are going on strike?
The strike affects RMT union members at both Network Rail and 13 train operating companies in the UK.
Network Rail is responsible for providing the infrastructure for the railway network and employs many people critical to the day-to-day running of the railway lines like signallers. While train operating companies take on the job of running trains on a small section of the network. The train operating companies with RMT members who have voted in favour of strike action are:
Avanti West Coast
East Midlands Railway
South Western Railway
West Midlands Trains (including London Northwestern Railway)
Why are RMT members going on strike?
The national rail strike is a dispute between rail bosses and union members over pay and job cuts.
The union claims Network Rail and the train operators have subjected their staff to 'multi-year pay freezes' while also planning to cut thousands of jobs, which it says will make the railways unsafe.
RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, had previously said he's organising 'a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system' if he couldn't get a deal for his members, all of which - he says - are facing a cost of living crisis like the rest of the country.
The ballot for strike action opened at the end of April and the RMT said its members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the action.
How will services be affected?
The RMT union, which has called the strike, says more than 40,000 of its members will walk out over the three days plunging train services into chaos.
Each strike will last 24 hours which is expected to cause significant disruption and will probably leave between only 15% and 20% of lines open for trains, which train companies may not be able to run and staff anyway.
Southeastern, which runs trains between Kent and the capital, is among the train operating companies affected and issued advice yesterday to tell people not to travel.
A warning on its website, tells people do no travel on the strike dates as most stations and routes will be closed leaving a severely reduced service and replacement buses and trains are also not likely to be available as an alternative.
On Monday evening, it issued a statement with a simple message of "do not travel" on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and warned of severe disruption on Wednesday.
A spokesman said: "Most of our stations and routes will be closed and we will only be able to run a severely reduced service. Please do not travel."
On the strike days, just 35 out of 180 stations used by Southeastern trains will be open.
There will be no rail replacement buses for stations which are closed.
Southeastern has warned passengers may be unable to board trains at stations where a limited service is running, especially at locations such as Ashford and Ebbsfleet.
The last trains back from London will be much earlier than usual, so there is a risk not everyone will be able to make their return journey, says the train company.
Services in between strike days are expected to be severely disrupted, especially in the mornings until midday and no services will run before 7.30am.
Timetable information for Friday and Sunday is not available yet.
On Wednesday morning, train services will start later, as follows:
Estimated to run from 10.25 from Sittingbourne and 10.48 from Sheerness
Estimated to run from 9.37 from Faversham to Victoria and 11.21 from Rochester to Ramsgate
Estimated to run from 9.53 from Ramsgate to Victoria and 9.40 from Faversham to Ramsgate
High Speed via Faversham from Ramsgate
Estimated to run from 9.20 from Ramsgate to St Pancras and 11.25 from St Pancras to Ramsgate
High Speed via Canterbury West from Ramsgate
Estimated to run from 12.55 from Margate to St Pancras and 11.12 from St Pancras to Margate
Ramsgate to Victoria via Canterbury West
Estimated to run from 11.40 from Ramsgate to Victoria and 9.25 from Victoria to Ramsgate
Ramsgate to St Pancras via Dover Priory
Estimated to run from 13.12 from Ramsgate to St Pancras and 12.37 from St Pancras to Ramsgate
Dover Priory to Charing Cross
Estimated to run from 14.00 from Dover to Charing Cross and 11.40 from Charing Cross to Dover
Dover Priory to Faversham
Estimated to run from 15.18 from Dover to Victoria and 14.10 from Victoria to Dover
All services on Friday, June 24
All services are estimated to run from 7.30.
Which big events are affected by the strikes?
Alongside disrupting those who commute to the office daily, or use the railways for essential travel, a number of big events from music concerts to sports competitions are set to be affected by the strike action, which could leave hundreds of thousands of ticket holders now needing to find alternative arrangements.
Among the biggest events is Glastonbury between June 22 and 26, the England test cricket match in Leeds between June 23 and 27, the British Athletics Championships in Manchester from June 24 to 26, Elton John's concert in Hyde Park on June 24, Armed Forces Day on June 25 and the Rolling Stones concert, also in London's Hyde Park on June 25.
What about those already with train tickets?
Those with train tickets who had plans to travel but who either choose not to or who can't travel because their services become cancelled because of the disputes, should be able to claim a refund says the Rail Delivery Group.
While Network Rail says it is now steadily putting in place plans to help people who may have already purchased train tickets for dates now affected by strike action.
This could include giving customers their money back, extending the validity of non-season tickets for the day before or up to two days after strike action or enabling travellers to use tickets on another operator or an alternative route.
You can read about the latest options that might be available to ticket holders, as train operators rush to establish which services they can run, here.
Despite lengthy talks the RMT has not been able to secure a pay proposal nor a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously.
"We have a cost-of-living crisis and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1% and rising."
Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, added: "We know that the cost of living has increased and we want to give our people a pay rise, but the RMT must recognise we are a public body and any pay increase has to be affordable for taxpayers and passengers.
"Travel habits have changed forever and the railway must change as well.
"We cannot expect to take more than our fair share of public funds, and so we must modernise our industry to put it on a sound financial footing for the future.
"Failure to modernise will only lead to industry decline and more job losses in the long run."