Intrepid commuter beats rail strikes chaos with his inflatable KAYAK

Intrepid commuter beats rail strikes chaos with his inflatable KAYAK as millions face another day of misery on train network as workers demand more pay

  • George Bullard paddles on the River Lugg on his £74 watercraft to get to his office in Presteigne. mid Wales
  • He says his savvy 30 minute commute to his office has saved him thousands in petrol and commuter time 
  • It comes as millions face chaos after the biggest rail strike in a generation began earlier this week
  • RMT Union and railway bosses expected to hold fresh talks today to try and resolve the ongoing dispute 
  • Walkouts will hinder millions trying to get to work and stop patients from attending vital health appointments 
  • ***Tell us about how you are being disrupted: Email [email protected]*** 

As commuters face yet another day of delays amid rail strike chaos, one man has found a novel way to get to work and avoid crowded stations at the same time – by kayaking down the river. 

George Bullard paddles down the River Lugg on his £74 blow up watercraft to get to his office in Presteigne, mid Wales, meaning he no longer has to worry about the rising cost of fuel or ongoing rail strikes. 

A keen kayaker, the 33-year-old camping firm director estimates that his savvy commute has saved him thousands.  

‘It is an exceptional way to get to work,’ he said. ‘I paddle in and back like any normal commuter and because the kayak is blow-up I can just deflate it and put it in my backpack although it’s a stretch to say I blend in. 

George Bullard paddles down the River Lugg on his £74 blow up watercraft to get to his office in Presteigne, mid Wales

‘It cost me £74, and I reckon it has saved me thousands.

‘I commute completely differently because adventures are part of my life.’ 

George has previously kayaked across the North Atlantic from Greenland to Scotland and warns that it takes a lot of experience to commute via kayak.   

‘I kayaked across the North Atlantic Ocean and when I came back, I wasn’t quite ready to go back to a normal 9-5 job,’ he said. 

‘Occasionally the weather isn’t great but I guess that’s part and parcel of being an adventurer. Sometimes getting to work and getting wet can be empowering. 

‘It is nice to not have to worry about being stuck in traffic and if I was in a car it would cost me a fortune. 

‘It does take a lot of experience to be able to do this. The river is exceptionally dangerous and shouldn’t be entered without a qualified instructor.  

‘I would encourage everyone to find different means of commuting to work and ditch the public transport and cars.

‘Whether it be walking, cycling, rollerskating or scootering, it is so good for your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

The 33-year-old spent £74 on the blow up watercraft and estimates that his savvy thinking has saved him thousands 

It’s not the first time strikes have driven commuters to take to the waves in a bid to get to work on time. 

Sir Alex Allan windsurfed down the River Thames to Parliament dressed in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, carrying a briefcase and brolly, in order to get around a train strike in the Eighties.

The stunt ended with him falling into the water. Sir Alex, then working at the Treasury, dreamt up the unusual way of commuting from his home in Putney, south-west London, with a neighbour who was a news photographer.

The photos appeared in the Evening Standard under the headline ‘Making it to work… a Treasury wet’. 

News of George’s novel approach to beating commuting times comes as millions face chaos after the biggest rail strike in a generation began earlier this week. 

An estimated 50,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 other train operators are striking over the course of three-days over pay. 

This morning, London’s busiest Tube stations were still closed at 8am.  

Huge queues formed outside seven Underground stations which were shuttered as late as 9.30am because of a lack of staff, while tempers flared at Paddington, Stratford, King’s Cross/St Pancras and more than a dozen other sites in all corners of the capital, MailOnline can reveal.

Many commuters tweeted TfL demanding to know why their local stations were open at 8am as promised. Others posted pictures of empty Tube trains with no drivers. Those who managed to get onto trains found services were few and far between – and rammed.

George’s journey echoed that of Sir Alex Allan in the 1980s, who made a splash when he windsurfed down the River Thames to Parliament dressed in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, carrying a briefcase and brolly, to beat a train strike

KING’S CROSS: Passengers arrive at King’s Cross station in London today on the second day of travel chaos

STRATFORD: Chaos as passengers wait for the station to open in London, as train services continue to be disrupted following the nationwide strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union along with London Underground workers in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions

Wednesday June 22: How trains and Tubes are being hit today

RAILWAYS

How many trains will run on Wednesday?

Despite being no strike today, only around 60% of the 20,000 normal weekday services will be able to operate.

Why are timetables not returning to normal if there is no strike on Wednesday?

Walkouts by signallers and control room staff who would usually work overnight from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning means trains will leave depots later than normal, delaying the start of services.

How quickly will services ramp up?

In London, services will increase quickly as trains do not have to travel long distances from depots to stations.

It will take several hours in remote locations. 

Will services eventually return to normal on Wednesday?

No. Network Rail said that ‘even during the day the service will stay thinner’ than usual and some operators will wind down services slightly earlier than normal.

What other problems are there on the UK rail network this morning?

• Woking (South Western Railway) – points failure

• Tunbridge Wells and Hastings (Southeastern) – signalling fault

• London Liverpool Street and Tottenham Hale / Chingford (Greater Anglia; London Overground; Stansted Express) – lineside fire

• Slough and Windsor & Eton Central (Great Western Railway) – broken-down train

• Shoeburyness and Fenchurch Street (c2c) – overcrowding

• Harrow & Wealdstone and Wembley Central (London Overground) – strike action

• Richmond and Stratford (London Overground) – shortage of signalling staff

• Blackburn and Todmorden / Hebden Bridge (Northern) – lineside fire, buses replace trains

TUBE

Passengers are being told not to expect a ‘normal service’ until mid-morning, with most tube lines shut until 8am because transport staff – including signallers and control room officers – did not work their overnight shifts. 

This morning the lines are: 

• Bakerloo: Minor delays

• Central: Good service

• Circle: Severe delays

• District: Severe delays

• Hammersmith & City: Severe delays

• Jubilee: Severe delays

• Metropolitan: Severe delays

• Northern: Good service

• Piccadilly: Severe delays

• Victoria: Good service

• Waterloo & City: Good service

• DLR: Good service

After a skeleton service yesterday, trains are in the wrong place and only 60 per cent of the 20,000 normal weekday services will be able to operate today. 

Traffic was as heavy as yesterday because more people had to use their cars. There were 2,046 traffic jams in London this morning, covering a total length of 834 miles, and a 30-minute journey was taking an average of an hour, according to traffic data analyst TomTom.

The biggest strikes in 30 years have also forced millions of people to WFH again for the second day in a row as RMT general secretary Mick Lynch attempts to bring Britain to its knees. 

Eerie photos yesterday showed deserted town and city centres across the country, in scenes reminiscent of the ‘darkest days of Covid’ when whole swathes of the economy were devastated by lockdown. 

The strikes have come at a dreadful time for the crippled hospitality sector, which has been struggling to get back on its feet after two years of Covid restrictions. Experts believe the mass walkouts this week will cost the sector £540million alone, while UKHospitality’s chief executive Kate Nicholls yesterday warned: ‘It’s a very fragile industry that cannot withstand this type of economic shock. For many businesses, this will push them closer towards the edge of viability.’ 

Meanwhile, the human cost of the strikes was laid bare after an NHS patient had to pay £165 for taxi from Portsmouth to London to get to his heart surgery, as trains and Tube services were disrupted for a second day.

And in a move that could unleash yet more chaos for commuters, patients and students, Uber drivers have also threatened to join the mass walkouts.  

It follows claims that National Rail and Lynch came within a ‘gnat’s whisker’ of striking a deal on Monday before the last-ditch talks collapsed.

However, there are already signs that rail companies are beginning to bow to the demands of union barons, after Labour-controlled Merseyrail announced today that it had agreed a 7 per cent pay rise with the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA).

The fresh development is likely to pile pressure on Keir Starmer, who was accused of ‘hiding’ during yesterday’s strikes and whose authority is in tatters after several Labour MPs defied the party whips and joined rail workers on the picket line. 

At Prime Minister’s Questions today, Boris Johnson accused Labour of backing strikers not ‘strivers’, adding: ‘We know why he [Sir Keir] won’t condemn the strikes, we know why even now he hasn’t got the gumption to call out his MPs for going out to support the pickets. The reason his authority is on the line in this matter is that they take £10million… that’s the fee the learned gentleman opposite is receiving for the case he is failing to make.’

It comes as the Government braces for a standoff with the unions that could last until Christmas as teachers, council workers and NHS staff also threaten to strike over pay. 

Today is a 24-hour partial reprieve until the strikes resume tomorrow and again on Saturday. While the railway network is meant to be operational, commuters have been hit for the second day running.

The RMT will meet with National Rail and the train companies today in another attempt to break the deadlock.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the turnout at picket lines on Tuesday was ‘fantastic’ and had exceeded expectations in the union’s campaign for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise

‘Our members will continue the campaign and have shown outstanding unity in the pursuit of a settlement to this dispute,’ he said. 

‘RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big business profits and Government policy.

‘Now is the time to stand up and fight for every single railway worker in this dispute that we will win.’

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘These are desperately needed reforms that modernise the railway and put it on a sustainable footing for passengers and taxpayers.

‘Unions have shut down big parts of the rail network, hitting local businesses and unfairly cutting people off from hospitals, schools and work.

PADDINGTON STATION: Passengers arrive at Paddington Station in London today as Mick Lynch’s strikes paralyse Britain

NORTH LONDON: Tube trains stand at Northfields Train Depot as train strikes hit services again

BIRMINGHAM: West Midlands Railway trains parked up and unused in Smethwick today

CLAPHAM JUNCTION: Busy platforms after the strike yesterday, with disruption to continue for six days

‘However, early data shows that unlike in the past, many people now have the opportunity to work from home, so we haven’t even a rush to the roads, as traffic has instead gone online, which means the unions aren’t having the overall impact they might have hoped.’

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has branded the railway workers’ strikes as ‘unjustified’.

Speaking at a visit to St George’s Hospital on Wednesday, he said: ‘Well, I think, and I hope actually that the rail workers are quite unique in how they’ve responded to higher inflation because I think their strike is just just completely unjustified.

Speaking at a visit to St George’s Hospital on Wednesday, he said: ‘Well, I think, and I hope actually that the rail workers are quite unique in how they’ve responded to higher inflation because I think their strike is just just completely unjustified.

‘It is right that we look to modernise our rail services, it is right we take into account perhaps the longer term impacts of the pandemic with the changing patterns of the way people work.

‘I think people recognise also that during the pandemic, the Government put in billions of pounds, I think, some £16billion of extra support for the rail industry. That’s something like £600 per family in the UK. But that can’t be continued.

‘We need to recognise this and make a changes and think this strike is unjustified and it’s hurting a lot of people, particularly people trying to get to hospital for their appointments and also you have NHS staff trying to get to the hospitals to help them.’

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the Government had to ‘hold the line’ against the RMT’s demands for improved pay and conditions on the railways.

The Justice Secretary said the strikes were ‘deeply regrettable’ and reform was necessary on the railways.

He told LBC Radio: ‘We’ve, of course, got to reform the way the railways operate, given the new ways to working on the effect that has on commuter travel. But there are also old practices, which frankly, are well out of date and unnecessary, which need to be reformed.’

The RMT Union (pictured RMT boss Mick Lynch) and railway bosses are expected to hold fresh talks today to try and resolve the ongoing dispute – but it is understood to be too late to stop widespread disruption tomorrow

MARBLE ARCH: Tube stations across the capital are closed this morning, with passengers being told not to expect a ‘normal service’ until mid-morning

CLAPHAM JUNCTION: Commuters force themselves on to buses as they try to get to work in a strike week

KINGSTON: The rammed A3 into London as commuters faced disruption and warm temperatures

SOUTH LONDON: A sole train heads towards Waterloo on a day where commuters were warned that it would be ‘messy’ for them today

He added: ‘I think Network Rail are taking the right approach. We know that the cost of living challenge is there, we know that it affects workers across the board.

‘But the one thing that will keep inflation higher for longer and undermine pay packets for longer is if we have spiralling public sector pay increases beyond what is responsible. And that’s what’s at issue here.

‘It is precisely to protect the wages of those on the lowest incomes that we need to hold the line.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the public on notice for further strike action as Downing Street said it would ‘not give in’ to demands from the rail unions.

Mr Johnson warned commuters they must be ready to ‘stay the course’ and urged rail bosses and unions to agree on a modernisation package to safeguard the future of the industry.

Fears of a wider general strike are growing. 

Teachers’ unions are now warning staff will be urged to strike in the autumn if they aren’t given an ‘inflation plus’ pay rise.

The National Education Union (NEU) said pay cuts and high workload were hitting teacher recruitment and retention, causing ‘real damage’ to education.

It criticised the Government’s evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body proposing a 3% pay increase for most teachers in England, which it said would mean a ‘huge’ pay cut on the basis of Wednesday’s inflation figures of 9.1% on the CPI measure and 11.7% for RPI.

In a letter to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, the union called for a fully funded inflation-plus pay increase for all teachers, as well as action on pay for other staff such as support workers, as well as measures to reduce workloads.

The minister was told that teacher pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010, even before this year’s increases in inflation, while their workload remains at ‘unsustainable’ levels.

CLAPHAM JUNCTION: One of the UK’s busiest stations was deserted this morning as train services slowly fire up

EUSTON: Passengers wait for the first trains at around 7am this morning as disruption from yesterday’s strikes continue today

Red line: Labour MPs at London’s Victoria station yesterday, from left: 1. Beth Winter (Cynon Valley), 2. Kim Johnson (Liverpool Riverside), 3. Rachael Maskell (York Central), 4. Ian Mearns (Gateshead), 5. Richard Burgon (Leeds East), 6. Zarah Sultana (Coventry South), 7. Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby), 8. Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford and Eccles), 9. Dan Carden (Liverpool Walton), 10. Paula Barker (Liverpool Wavertree)

It comes as Royal Mail workers have demanded a ‘no strings, inflation-based’ pay rise as they prepare to vote on industrial action. 

‘We have further talks on change with CWU this week. We hope this will ultimately lead to an agreement on the changes required to ensure Royal Mail can grow and remain competitive in a fast-moving industry, securing jobs for the future and retaining our place as the industry leader on pay and terms and conditions.

‘We value the work we do with CWU and remain committed to agreeing a deal for tomorrow, not just today.’

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) says it will ballot 115,000 Royal Mail workers over potential strike action in a row over pay, saying that a two per cent pay increase offered by the company is ‘totally inadequate’. 

Terry Pullinger, CWU deputy general secretary accused Royal Mail management of conducting themselves ‘insultingly and disrespectfully to key workers’, but Royal Mail said it had offered the biggest pay increase ‘for many years’.

The union will send out ballot papers on June 28, with the result becoming known next month.

CWU general-secretary Dave Ward said: ‘Our members have been treated in a completely undignified manner by the people they make incredible profits for.

‘Our members kept this country connected throughout our country’s greatest crisis since World War Two, and many paid the ultimate sacrifice.

‘Now, they are being told there’s nothing for them, and they have to accept having less while the mega profits of bosses come first.

‘The state of affairs is unjust and unsustainable, and I have no doubt that our 115,000 members will stand strong against it and deliver a historic vote for action.’

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: ‘We believe there are no grounds for industrial action. We offered a deal worth up to 5.5% for CWU grade colleagues, the biggest increase we have offered for many years, which was rejected by the CWU.’

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