Train companies relying on drivers doing overtime to keep UK rail afloat

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Rail firms are relying on drivers doing overtime to keep the network running, the Daily Mail reveals today.

Our investigation found that drivers with 18 of the 20 largest operators are on four-day weeks of no more than 36 hours. Half of them are not even obliged to work on Sundays.

It means bosses have to offer up to £340 a day in overtime – and hope staff volunteer for weekends. Some of those picking up the extra cash are already on £65,000 a year.


The working practices have been blamed for hundreds of delayed or cancelled services. 

Unions claim the train companies are at fault for not hiring more drivers, who are on basic salaries averaging £53,000.

But Tory MP Grant Shapps said: ‘Given the way passengers have suffered this past couple of months, it must be time to end the system where it’s voluntary to turn up to work. 

‘Commuters need to know that when the timetable says a train is running, there’s someone there to drive it.

‘Drivers are already properly remunerated, so it shouldn’t be too much to expect trains to run efficiently every day of the week.’

Rail firms are relying on drivers doing overtime to keep the network running, it has been revealed today. Staff shortages have meant mass cancellations on Great Western services

Rail firms are relying on drivers doing overtime to keep the network running, it has been revealed today. Staff shortages have meant mass cancellations on Great Western services

Rail firms are relying on drivers doing overtime to keep the network running, it has been revealed today. Staff shortages have meant mass cancellations on Great Western services

The issue of driver availability was highlighted during the World Cup. On July 15 – the day of the final – Northern Rail, which operates a four-day working week, cancelled 170 services because scores of drivers had opted out of overtime to watch the football.

Long-distance services run by Great Western Rail were also cancelled. It relies on drivers working voluntarily because they are not contracted to do Sundays. 

Both operators admitted their lines were disrupted by ‘reduced’ or ‘unavailable’ staff.

The four-day working week was proposed following the privatisation of British Rail, which began in 1994.

It was rolled out by the majority of major operators by the turn of the century and requires drivers to do no more than 36 hours in total over four days.

Official guidance from the Office of Rail and Road says they can work up to 48 hours a week – allowing plenty of scope for overtime.

Drivers with Southern Rail can earn up to £70,000 a year with overtime payments.

A typical overtime rate includes a 15 per cent boost to a driver’s daily rate of £250, plus a £50 bonus for working the overtime shift – meaning they can receive as much as £337 a day.

Insiders say drivers like their extra earning power and unions can use an overtime ban as leverage in negotiations with employers.

The working practices have been blamed for hundreds of delayed or cancelled services. Pictured: Travel chaos at Leeds train station

The working practices have been blamed for hundreds of delayed or cancelled services. Pictured: Travel chaos at Leeds train station

The working practices have been blamed for hundreds of delayed or cancelled services. Pictured: Travel chaos at Leeds train station


There has been widespread chaos on the railways this summer due to the introduction of new timetables in May.

Last week Northern, West Midlands Railway and Arriva Trains Wales blamed cancellations on a shortage of drivers. All allow drivers to work a four-day week with voluntary overtime.

Drivers and other rail workers have been striking repeatedly since 2016, when Southern first introduced driver-only operation and effectively abolished the role of the train guard in operating passenger doors.

The RMT union led the first wave of action before being joined by Aslef, which represents the vast majority of the country’s 22,000 train drivers.

It was estimated that 300,000 passengers were affected by Southern strikes over 15 months. 

Passengers travelling on Greater Anglia, CrossCountry and Merseyrail services were also hit by industrial action.

Drivers with Southern Rail (trains pictured) can earn up to £70,000 a year with overtime pay

Drivers with Southern Rail (trains pictured) can earn up to £70,000 a year with overtime pay

Drivers with Southern Rail (trains pictured) can earn up to £70,000 a year with overtime pay

On Saturday, South Western Railway was forced to cancel half of its services in south-west London and the home counties because of the continuing strike action. Another day of disruption is planned for tomorrow. 

Last night a senior Tory source said: ‘Things like refusing to work Sundays or overtime at the last minute show that unions only have their own self-interest at heart – they don’t care about providing a good service or what’s best for passengers.’

Unions however blame the issues on a shortage of drivers and accuse operators of penny pinching when they should be recruiting. It costs £60,000 to train a new train driver.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: ‘It suits the operators to run on a knife edge and be reliant on people working on their rest days. It is fraught with difficulty because it is not compulsory to work on your day off.

‘The rail industry is run on a wing and a prayer with an expectation that people will work overtime on their days off. The solution is very simple. We need more drivers.’

An Aslef spokesman added: ‘On any given day train services are being run voluntarily.’

Train driver strikes have resulted in Southern, Greater Anglia (pictured), CrossCountry and Merseyrail passengers having their journeys delayed or cancelled

Train driver strikes have resulted in Southern, Greater Anglia (pictured), CrossCountry and Merseyrail passengers having their journeys delayed or cancelled

Train driver strikes have resulted in Southern, Greater Anglia (pictured), CrossCountry and Merseyrail passengers having their journeys delayed or cancelled

Bruce Williamson, of the campaign group RailFuture, said: ‘There is a shortage of drivers. Whatever the networks say, we know this is the case.

‘We pay the highest rail fares in Europe and we certainly don’t get the best service for that.

‘If you are cutting human resources to the bone then that will have an impact.’

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which speaks for rail operators, denied there was a driver shortage, adding: ‘Operators continually recruit for drivers and work with trade unions to discuss employment terms so that they can meet the demands of the timetable.’

A spokesman for Northern said: ‘We have more drivers than we need to run a full timetable in normal circumstances.’

A spokesman for Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern, said it was looking at bringing Sundays into the working week.

He added: ‘Drivers working rest days and overtime is standard practice in the industry and is used to cover training requirements, sickness and other, day-to-day issues.’ 



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