Train services are disrupted across Britain as thousands of railway workers stage their second strike of the week.
Around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out again on Thursday after talks failed to resolve a bitter row over pay, jobs and conditions.
Just one in five trains are running, and they are mostly restricted to main lines, with around half of the network closed.
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia are also striking on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.
The company is advising passengers to travel only if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Government announced plans to change the law to enable businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action.
The Government said the legislation will repeal the “burdensome” legal restrictions, giving companies affected by strike action the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses which can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice.
Network Rail welcomed the move but Labour and unions condemned it as a “recipe for disaster”.
National Highways senior network planner Frank Bird said traffic flows on motorways and major A roads on Thursday morning were “remarkably good”.
“The look and feel of the network is that traffic numbers are down,” he told the PA news agency.
“If you’re going in and out of town and city centres, they’re a little bit busier.”
He added: “Two years on (from the Covid pandemic) we’ve learned to work in different ways, people are working from home, so it’s a very different picture.
“People are still able to carry on working even though the rail dispute is ongoing.”
He told BBC Breakfast that will depend on the extent of reforms, the popularity of voluntary severance schemes and how many workers can be retrained.
He added: “We believe that once we work through with the reform, that we can hopefully accommodate everybody who wants to stay within the organisation.
“So, we just need to get through the processes and see how many people are left, and hopefully nobody requires to be made compulsory redundant.”
Mr Shapps hit back, saying the RMT claim was a “lie”.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We remain available for talks – day or night – and will do everything we can to avoid further disruption for our passengers.”
Labour MP for Birkenhead Mick Whitley joined RMT members on a picket line outside Liverpool Lime Street station.
He said: “I think every Labour MP should come out. Let’s have it right, the Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement and they are our political voice in Parliament so every Labour MP should be out.”
He said a pay deal reached with Merseyrail reinforced the argument that the Government was “manufacturing the dispute”.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) announced on Wednesday that its members at the operator – which does not receive Government funding – had accepted a 7.1% pay offer.
Mr Whitley added: “We don’t want to mess up people’s travel arrangements but if you’re pushed into a corner you have got to do something.”