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Rail strike Kent: Businesses speak of impact on trade as railway workers set to walk out for two more days


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Business owners and workers have spoken about the impact this week's rail strikes are having on trade.

More than 40,000 railway workers walked out on Tuesday – with staff also striking today and Saturday.

Marion Shaw, 25, who works at Beezoo in Rochester railway station
Marion Shaw, 25, who works at Beezoo in Rochester railway station

But as people struggle to get to work and school, businesses based near railway stations have also suffered.

The manager of Beezoo, a cafe in Rochester railway station, told how they shut on the first strike day and will be shut today and Saturday.

Marion Shaw, 26, said: "On the day we did open, we might as well not open because there are not any customers.

"I’m not sure what the mornings are like at the moment but [yesterday] afternoon it was like a ghost town."

She told how sales were down at least 80% on the first strike day on Tuesday and says it "has really impacted the business".

"We might not even open on Friday at this rate," she added.

"If they deem it not busy enough, it might be too expensive to keep the shop open than keep it shut. It’s such a shame.

"We have lost a lot of customers and we have only just got them back after the pandemic.

"We have only just started getting a good amount of customers back and all of a sudden it is like we have hit the pandemic again.

"We have not really recovered from the pandemic as our numbers are still not great and it will take a while to get them back up and [the strikes] have not helped at all."

Rochester railway station
Rochester railway station

Ms Shaw also said they are not able to sell some products because of the lack of trade.

"When it comes to the pastries, we just hope for the best that someone might have them," she said.

"Otherwise, we end up giving them for free to the train staff who are still here so it doesn’t go to waste and we don’t throw them away.

"We have even given them to the homeless before to stop the waste.

"They’re expensive to get in so it’s a shame to have to waste them and it is one of our biggest expenses."

Adam Sherwood, 55, is a Medway taxi driver
Adam Sherwood, 55, is a Medway taxi driver

Taxi driver Adam Sherwood, 55, who picks up customers at Rochester railway station, said business was slow on the first strike day.

Speaking about Tuesday, he said: "Occasionally people walked up but they weren’t on the trains.

"The train-side of it killed it and it hasn’t been a lot better [yesterday].

"I think a lot of people are taking the week off and it’s a big effect.

"It was a bit busier [yesterday], more people but not as normal. It is bound to have an effect all week."

"You might have got a couple before 9am, but after that, nothing."

He said the strikes had made a "massive difference" to trade.

"You get a choice if you want to work on the radio or not, and the ones who don’t and come here, they wouldn’t have earned anything," he added.

"You might have got a couple before 9am, but after that, nothing."

The owners of a beloved bookshop which was forced to close due to rocketing rent prices reopened a store in a long-empty former waiting room at Whitstable railway station on June 4.

Oxford Street Books had been managed by Tiziana Mazzoli and her partner Michael Dowling for five years, but served as a bookshop for about 17.

Tiziana Mazzoli and her partner Michael Dowling, who run Books in Waiting
Tiziana Mazzoli and her partner Michael Dowling, who run Books in Waiting

They have now been hit with the impact the strikes will have on trade, but do understand why the workers are striking.

Ms Mazzoli said: "It will affect our business immensely. The living standard is low and the costs are getting high.

"People are not spending, not going out and conscious of doing any social things.

"We do agree they should have an increase in their salary because it is not enough. But at the same time, we are losing clientèle.

"I just started two weeks ago, so I have mixed emotions."

Books in Waiting at Whitstable railway station
Books in Waiting at Whitstable railway station

Mr Dowling added: "I think the whole country should go on strike.

"It has got to a point to being impossible for most people to survive and it just keeps getting worse.

"The days the strikes are on will be a lot quieter because we won’t have the passing trade.

"But hopefully we will have a few loyal customers coming in to see how we’re doing."

The strike is a dispute between rail bosses and union members over pay and job cuts.

"I’d like to apologise to customers for the inconvenience and frustration this industrial action will cause."

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 had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the action.

Southeastern services will be severely restricted in Kent on strike days with most routes closed completely and only 20% of trains running.

There are no trains on Southeastern routes except for a limited service on the Dartford and Orpington lines and Highspeed route between London St Pancras and Ashford.

Beezoo at Rochester railway station
Beezoo at Rochester railway station

The train operator has warned there will be significant morning disruption on days immediately after strike action – Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Scott Brightwell, Southeastern’s operations and safety director, said: "We want to avoid industrial action, because we know it’ll be really difficult for our customers.

"There’ll be significant disruption to our services between Tuesday and Sunday.

"Many of our routes will have no trains and most stations will be closed.

"So, we’re advising passengers to only travel if necessary, and if you do travel, expect severe disruption and plan ahead on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

"I’d like to apologise to customers for the inconvenience and frustration this industrial action will cause.

"We urge the RMT to call off the industrial action, and work with us to find a resolution as we look to rebuild the railway together."

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