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During any sort of strike, you may find yourself searching for alternatives or waiting until the strike is over before patronizing a business or using the services of a particular industry. But this gets awfully tricky when it comes to transportation, such as flights or trains.
Things can get complicated when you’re traveling and rail workers decide to strike. How do you deal with a rail strike that may impact a substantial part of your trip?
Do you need to rent a car? Should you try to ride the trains anyway? Is a strike enough to require a total change of your itinerary or travel dates? Let’s dig into what happens during a rail strike and what you need to do when rail strikes impact your travel plans.
- Why Are There Train Strikes?
- When Will a Train Strike Occur?
- Does All Travel Cease For Train Strikes?
- What If Strike Action Impacts Your Train Plans?
- Contact Your Travel Insurance Provider
- Be Prepared To Change Plans On The Fly
- Check Local Media and Rail Operators
- Check Third-Party Sites to Potentially Rebook
- Hang On to Your Tickets!
- Contact the Rail Operator
- Can you still travel on strike days?
- Do strikes mean all trains are canceled?
- What if my train is canceled, and I can’t get home?
Why Are There Train Strikes?
Workers in a union may decide to strike when they have a dispute with their employer, which in this case might be a train company. Railway workers may seek a pay raise, or baggage handlers may push for greater benefits from their employer.
In some cases, workers may even have a dispute with their own union leaders, which may result in a strike. Whatever the reason for the strike, travelers may encounter delays or cancellations of train services or routes.
See Related: Useful Tips for Long Distance Train Travel
When Will a Train Strike Occur?
There are no specific months or days when you can expect a train strike; however, unions typically do announce rail strikes well in advance of the strike dates, which also gives them more time to find a compromise. Train companies may publish notices on their website about impending strikes, or you may hear about them in the news.
Some of the longest and fiercest strikes in the world have occurred within the rail system. The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886 lasted almost six months and involved 200,000 rail workers. The long-running dispute was a protest against low pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions.
France, in particular, is a nation extremely familiar with rail strikes. Regular services are often canceled due to industrial action.
Does All Travel Cease For Train Strikes?
As long as you’re aware of the strike in advance of your travel dates, you should have ample opportunity to make alternate plans. The entirety of the rail system likely won’t grind to a halt, but you could encounter some stations without any operating trains.
For example, if you’re in London during an Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) union strike and need to get to Gatwick Airport, you may need to see if buses are running between London and Gatwick since the train between Victoria Station and the airport might offer no or limited service on strike day.
But if other transportation systems go on sympathy strikes along with a London Overground or tube strike, then you might have to resort to a ride share.
See Related: Eurail Pass Review: Is It Worth the Price?
What If Strike Action Impacts Your Train Plans?
It’s not impossible to get around during an industrial action or strike by a railroad union, but you may find your scheduled trains significantly delayed or impacted by canceled services. You may have bought your tickets months ahead, which is great for getting tickets at a discount, but what happens if the train operator cancels your ride?
Contact Your Travel Insurance Provider
Anyone with an international trip on the calendar needs to have travel insurance. Here at ViaTravelers, we like SafetyWing and AIG Travel Guard. You can find a good policy and compare rates at TravelInsurance.com, too.
It’s so important to have travel insurance because most policies will cover trip interruption, and rail strikes generally fall under that umbrella. So check in with your provider and see about some compensation!
Be Prepared To Change Plans On The Fly
Hopefully, you’re aware of the strike ahead of time and have the opportunity to make changes to your travel plans if necessary. However, if you don’t learn about the strike until you land or arrive, you could find yourself experiencing some serious travel disruption.
Consider the recent strike action in Italy in the summer of 2023, when the state-run Trenitalia system experienced a strike. Even though representatives of the privately-run Italo high-speed train system told travelers that their trains would run despite the Trenitalia strike, travelers in the city of Rome were dismayed to see that the cancellations were much more widespread, according to an article from the Associated Press.
Check Local Media and Rail Operators
The best way to avoid disruption to your trip during a strike is to be aware of the planned strike dates ahead of time. Some countries, like Italy, experience work stoppages pretty regularly. If you do your research, you’ll still receive some notice about the action before it happens.
If you’re traveling to a country where workers strike frequently, make a point of checking whether a strike is planned during your travel dates. You can check for potential disruptions by visiting operator websites like Network Rail in the UK, which hosts a page on its website with information about planned strikes.
Check Third-Party Sites to Potentially Rebook
Some booking and external sites, like Trainline, post information about disruptions in various countries. For example, they maintain an informative page with disruption information covering the UK rail network (and they publish other pages for different railways and other countries, too). Those websites may even offer resources for rebooking or changing your ticket.
Hang On to Your Tickets!
If you decide to change your plans and take the bus rather than a train, don’t assume your train ticket is useless. The train operator may offer a full refund as long as their company policy indicates that passengers are eligible for refunds in the event of a strike or service cancellation.
Should you pursue a full refund so that you can rebook another ticket using a different mode of transportation, remember to engage in a little comparison shopping, even if you need your tickets immediately. Check rates for various types of travel on aggregate websites like Kayak and Momondo so you can potentially reduce the cost of last-minute reservations.
Contact the Rail Operator
Also, don’t shy away from asking for help from your train operator. You should have access to some customer service representatives via phone or at the station, even if the unions are striking. Remember, the workers aren’t mad at you!
Can you still travel on strike days?
Not all trains grind to a halt on strike dates. A transportation strike may impact some portion of overall rail services, which may result in fewer trains running or reduced services. During train strikes, you remain entitled to the benefits granted through your ticket purchase, whether that’s compensation in the form of a ticket refund or riding with a different train company.
Do strikes mean all trains are canceled?
The severity of the schedule disruption depends on the scope of the rail strike, its location, and which rail workers are striking. For example, a strike by ASLEF in the UK can impact more than a dozen rail lines across Britain, forcing travelers to choose alternative methods of transport like rental cars.
What if my train is canceled, and I can’t get home?
Train cancellations don’t mean that you’ll need to take a financial hit and buy an entirely new ticket. In most cases, you’ll be able to take the next train to your destination. In some cases, the train company may offer alternative transport to affected passengers, which may include bus travel or shuttles.
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.