Hang on to your top hats and fascinators – racegoers travelling by train to Royal Ascot face delays and disruption as a four-day strike by rail staff is set to begin on Tuesday.
A dispute between South West Railway (SWR) and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers involving the presence of train guards has not been resolved, with neither party seemingly willing to budge over the weekend.
The action is set to coincide with the first four days of the royal meeting and looks certain to cause significant headaches for passengers on the line from London Waterloo to Reading.
A skeleton service is set to run, rather than the usual four trains an hour from Waterloo to Ascot, with replacement buses scheduled to cope with the influx of thousands of racegoers.
SWR revised timetable for next week
Extra morning and early evening trains will run between London Waterloo and Reading for racegoers travelling to Royal Ascot.
Ascot to Aldershot will be served by trains from 10.00 until 21.45. Rail replacement buses will operate until mid-morning and from late evening.
As reported in the Racing Post last week, Ascot racecourse took the unusual step of recommending that racegoers travel by road.
That is bound to have an adverse effect on all arterial routes leading to the course as they are already extremely congested every day of the meeting.
Nick Smith, Ascot’s director of racing and communications, said: "Our advice to racegoers travelling by train is to connect to the racecourse website which contains a link to SWR and the company will be regularly updating their revised timetable over the course of the week.
"Racegoers then have to make their own decision whether to endure the obvious delays the skeleton rail service will cause and perhaps make alternative arrangements. However, I do understand that SWR intend to be running as many trains as possible on the route at peak times.
"The alternative arrangements remain the same and they include travelling to the racecourse by road which is not ideal but does provide an alternative. Ascot has the extra car parking capacity which will be needed on site and those areas will of course be well signposted."
Rail replacement services
In a statement over the weekend, a spokesman for SWR said: "It’s very disappointing that despite having had dates in the diary for what we hoped would be further constructive talks, the RMT union decided to call disruptive strike action over the course of five days. Clearly, they have decided to target popular events such as Royal Ascot with this cynical action which is driven by internal RMT politics.
"Passengers are strongly advised to plan their travel in advance as services are likely to be busier than usual because of the strike action. Rail replacement services and ticket acceptance on other bus and rail networks have been organised where possible, whilst fans attending events at Twickenham, Hampton Court, Royal Ascot and elsewhere are advised to allow extra time for their travel.
"Customers will be able to see amendments to their train services, as currently published on our website, in journey planning systems. Further information on additional main line peak-time services – over and above the amended timetable – will be announced in due course."