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UK rail strike causes train chaos, surge in road traffic

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LONDON: Millions of people are suffering disruption from rail strikes in Britain with 80 per cent of trains cancelled and a spike in road congestion. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the public to "stay the course" after around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

Only a fifth of trains are running on Tuesday and half of all lines are closed.

Services are generally restricted to main lines, but even those are only open between 7:30 am and 6:30 pm. Last trains will be much earlier than normal, such as London Euston to Glasgow at 1:30 pm, London King's Cross to Edinburgh at 2 pm and London Paddington to Cardiff at 4:27 pm. Much of Britain will have no passenger trains for the entire day, including most of Scotland and Wales, the whole of Cornwall and Dorset, and places such as Chester, Hull, Lincoln and Worcester.

Usually busy stations such as London Euston and London Paddington are nearly deserted except for union picket lines.

Many people are believed to be working from home rather than travelling to offices.

Those forced to travel are having to contend with skeleton traintime tables and increased traffic on the roads.

Electrical engineer Harry Charles said his normal 10-minute journey to work by train to London Bridge took him 90 minutes.

The 30-year-old, from Lewisham, south-east London, said: "Obviously I had to wake up early and left my house at 6 am.

"I am with the employees who are striking because their money is not going up and the cost of everything is rising.

"The strike has caused a lot of hassle for people but everyone wants be able to eat."

At Liverpool Lime Street station, couple Sheila and Steve, who did not want to give their last name, were due to travel to London for a theatre trip costing £500. Steve said: "The 8:47 am train has been cancelled and we're just keeping our fingers crossed for the next one at 9:47 am.

"I think they have got the right to strike but this seems a bit unfair on other people."

At Birmingham New Street station, a few would-be passengers and commuters were trying to work out their travel plans, gazing at timetables on their phones and the departures board on the main concourse. Carol Hutchinson, who was on her way back to the Lake District after coming off a six-hour flight from Egypt, landed in the UK to find her direct train from Birmingham International station cancelled.

Having made her way to New Street, she was waiting to board, with her luggage, what appeared to be one of the few trains still running.

"I think it's going to be standing room only... I'm not even sure I'll get on with my suitcase," she said.

Johnson told a meeting of the Cabinet that reforms are vital for the rail industry and those who work in it.

He said: "I say this to the country as a whole, we need to get ready to stay the course. "To stay the course, because these reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interests of the travelling public, they will help to cut costs for fare payers up and down the country." - dpa

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