Students face travel chaos as rail strikes impact journeys back to Durham

By and Emily Doughty

Durham University students from across the country are facing significant challenges in returning to Durham before the start of Epiphany term, as the latest wave of rail strikes scheduled between the 3rd and 7th January force many students to alter their travel plans.

In a poll of 1164 students conducted by Palatinate, 51% of those surveyed said the upcoming round of rail strikes between the 3rd and 7th January will “definitely” impact their journey back to University, with a further 23% saying their journeys will “probably be impacted”. 

This compares with just 16% of respondents, who said the strikes “definitely would not” impact their journeys, and only 10% saying their journeys will “probably not” be impacted.

Students have reached out to Palatinate to explain how their journeys have been changed in light of strikes. Many have said that they have been left with no choice but to delay their arrival to Durham until after term starts on the 9th January, while others will attempt to arrive in Durham before the strikes commence on the 3rd, such are the limited options for students to get around during the strikes. 

The situation is particularly acute for students who have in-person lectures or exams during the first few days of term. One student told Palatinate that they had no way of getting back to Durham in time for an important meeting with University staff to discuss “if I am well enough to continue studying”, saying that the strikes are “literally putting my degree at risk”. 

“Literally putting my degree at risk”

Another said that they would only be able to arrive in Durham “two weeks” after the start of term, as they are working while at home “and need the money to afford the train back”, meaning an earlier arrival is not an option. Several other students say they will have to miss lectures or exams as they can only travel after term starts. One said that they had a formative exam on the 9th January “that I’m struggling to get to”.

International students are also particularly likely to be among the worst affected by the strikes, as rail services from UK airports will be limited due to the strikes. One student from Turkey told Palatinate that this would be the third time that rail strikes have impacted their travel plans. They said they “had to pay £200 ish to change my flight” back to the UK to the 2nd January, in hopes of getting back to Durham before the strikes begin on the 3rd. 

Several other students have sought alternative methods of travel to get back to Durham. Many have resorted to booking flights or coaches, with others opting to carpool with their friends or family. Over the past few days, there have been a number of posts on the Facebook page “Overheard at Durham Uni” of students requesting a lift back to University.

One student, who wanted to arrive in Durham a few days before their essays were due, said they have resorted to travelling back via plane, which they said represents “generally more hassle” as they will need to limit the amount of luggage they can take with them. Another student said they “had to get a £100 flight” to reach Durham, while a third said they “had to pay to fly from Heathrow” in order to make it in time for their exams. 

The January rail strikes, led by the RMT and ASLEF unions, will severely limit the number of rail services operating across the UK, including the mainline services that pass through Durham. The RMT will strike on the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th January, while ASLEF will strike on the 5th, with the latter strike expected to result in no services running at all on several rail operators.

“Had to get a £100 flight”

During the strikes, LNER which operates on the East Coast Mainline between London and Durham, will run one train per hour between the two cities between 7.30am and 3.30pm during the RMT strikes on the 3rd, 4th and 6th, with just seven trains operating between the two cities during the ASLEF strike on the 5th. 

Furthermore, engineering works on the 7th and 8th will mean there will be no direct trains into and out of London on the route over that weekend, with LNER warning that “journey will be significantly longer” as people will need to travel to St Neots to catch an LNER service heading north. 

Students living outside of London will face a particular challenge in getting back to Durham, with many rail services that travel via Durham or connect to mainline services going through Durham being curtailed completely. TransPennine Express for example will not run any services through Durham during the strikes, which will impact students travelling from across the north of England. 

The rail strikes are part of an ongoing dispute between the unions and the government

The best TransPennine options will be the nine trains between Manchester Piccadilly and York running on the 3rd and 4th, with no services at all on the 5th and a limited service between Huddersfield and York on the 6th and 7th. A small number of CrossCountry Trains will serve Durham during the strikes, with two trains running between Birmingham and Durham on the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th, but no trains running on the 5th. 

The rail strikes, which have occurred over several weeks since June this year, are part of an ongoing dispute between the unions and the government over issues of pay, job cuts and changes to working conditions. In a statement, ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said that “we don’t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place”, arguing that “they have not offered our members a penny” in terms of pay increases since April 2019.

Whelan also said that the union “don’t want to inconvenience passengers — our friends and families use the railway too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future…but the intransigent attitude of the train companies — with the government acting with malice in the shadows — has forced our hand”. He also said that the way to prevent future strikes is for the rail companies to produce a “proper proposal” to help members. 

Palatinate have additionally contacted the RMT union for further comment. 


One thought on “Students face travel chaos as rail strikes impact journeys back to Durham

  • Has the student who “had” to get a £100 flight to Durham ever heard of coaches? Or do they not want to mingle amongst the common folk?


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