Kent transport

Rail strikes add to Kent’s tourism industry nightmare as visitor numbers plummet to attractions like Dover Castle

Rail strikes are set to add to the woes of tourist attractions in Kent, after chaos in cross-Channel travel last week saw visitor numbers plummet.

Earlier this week, Deirdre Wells, chief executive of Visit Kent, called on the government to act to help ease delays in Dover and Folkestone and the resulting congestion on Kent’s roads.

Passengers queuing for ferries at the Port of Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Today, Neil McCollum, manager of historic properties in Kent for English Heritage, added his weight to those calls but said the impact of the coming rail strikes was not yet visible.

Members of the RMT union will go on strike across the national rail network today, affecting all train operators in the country, while the strike of the ASLEF union is due to continue on Saturday July 30, again interrupting services.

London Underground workers are also staging a new strike in a long-running dispute over jobs and pensions.

Members of the Railway, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) will be out on August 19.

Mr McCollum said he hoped tourists could still make it to attractions such as Dover Castle, which had been hit particularly hard by recent traffic jams.

Dover Castle.  Archival photo
Dover Castle. Archival photo

He said: “I think the advice would be to check the itinerary before you go.

“If you can’t take the train, which you can’t do on Saturday because of the rail strike or limited service, check your itinerary before you go.

“Use things like Google Maps, use our website, connect to our social media – they’ll have an update on any traffic issues. If there are any issues, we’ll highlight them and any opportunities where you can bypass traffic jams.

“There are lots of ways to get to Dover, especially if you know the city well, so we can give you tips on how to get around the traffic jams, but hopefully we’ll have a traffic-free weekend.”

While he said Kent was an ‘amazing county’, with ‘incredible days’, visitor numbers were around 50 per cent lower than would be expected at this time of year, and he said said tourist attractions had hoped this summer would give a chance to recover from the pandemic.

“It’s extremely vital for us, we are a charity,” he added.

“We run 400 sites across the country and we’ve had a tough few years in terms of reduced visitor numbers and revenue etc, but we’ve been very successful in retaining all the staff.

“We haven’t had to lay off any staff. We’re still here, we’re still open, so we’ve seen this year as kind of a first year of rebound.

“We knew it would be difficult as it is the first year after the pandemic and it will take some time for overseas visitors to return in large numbers, although we are already seeing them, but this year was going to be our big bounce back year. .”

And he said the problems caused by the delays at Dover were particularly frustrating because they had been predicted before Brexit.

He added: “We have spoken to local politicians and the government to tell them, listen, there is a problem here, we have to find a solution, and we are still looking for that solution because last weekend we have still had the same problem..

“Potentially, if we don’t find a different way of doing things, we could have the same problem next year, and we don’t want that.

“I and my colleagues at Kent Tourist Attractions are trying to actively lobby the government and engage with relevant organizations to try to get something changed, and that has to change – also for the people of Dover, because it was a terrible weekend for them to endure stuck in their homes, especially in the city center.

“I think the people of Dover deserve better than that.”

Members of the RMT union will strike across the rail network today.  Archival photo
Members of the RMT union will strike across the rail network today. Archival photo

Network Rail spokesman Paul Dent-Jones apologized to passengers for the problems created by the strikes and he hoped the dispute that sparked the strikes could be resolved.

“First of all allow me to apologize to all of our passengers,” he said. “I’m really, really sorry for the disruption you’re going to experience this week, especially with the heat wave. We’re doing everything we can to keep some services running, but obviously we have people on strike.

“We have trained an additional 250 people to take on these really critical roles so that we can keep some services running, but even with their support this is nowhere near the number of people we need to run a railway. normal, so we had to prioritize the lines where we can move the most passengers with the limited resources available.”

He said the key message for passengers was to only travel if absolutely necessary and to check travel information before travelling, but he admitted the situation was “a nightmare”.

“Obviously we urge the RMT to come back to the negotiating table because really, it’s up to us to fix it,” he added.

“There are so many different roles it would take me all day to list them, but they are essential frontline people who run the railroad on a day-to-day basis.

“We want to give our employees a pay raise, we recognize that the cost of living is going up, everything is more expensive these days, and we want to give our employees a pay raise because they deserve it.”

Paul Dent-Jones, spokesman for Network Rail
Paul Dent-Jones, spokesperson for Network Rail

And Mr Dent-Jones said Network Rail’s recent offer of an 8 per cent pay rise over two years, along with other benefits and bonuses, was a fair offer, and the RMT’s response to announce more of strike dates was disappointing.

He added: “Taxpayers have already shelled out around £600 per household just to keep the industry afloat while no one travels.

“We think passengers are already paying enough for their fares, and we don’t think they should pay more, so it’s up to us to come back to the negotiating table, figure out what we need to change and figure out which are outdated practices that we can get rid of so that we can achieve the efficiencies we need, which will not only allow us to operate a safer and better railroad, but it will give us the money we need to give our people a decent pay raise.