The spectre of replacement buses and car-sharing faces thousands of Royal Ascot racegoers next week after the course on Tuesday took the unusual step of recommending alternative travel plans as a strike by rail staff showed no sign of being called off.
An industrial dispute between South West Railway (SWR) and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has the royal racecourse caught squarely in the middle, with the hugely popular rail service set for severe disruption.
SWR on Tuesday confirmed its plan to offer only a skeleton rail service, supported by a rail-replacement bus service for all five days of Royal Ascot.
News of the dispute broke last month but with the world-famous race meeting drawing nearer neither side showed any sign of finding a resolution. A union spokesman on Tuesday said: "Nothing has changed and we are where we are. There is no sign of any movement and the planned industrial action is due to go ahead next week."
The planned five-day walk-out by members of the RMT follows a long-running dispute about customer safety and the presence of train guards. It looks set to paralyse rail travel on the line from Waterloo Station in London through to Reading, which takes in Ascot, to coincide with all five days of the big meeting.
At present, SWR plans a skeleton service mixing some trains with rail-replacement buses for the five days on the route between the two stations from mid-morning until late evening to try and accommodate the influx of racegoers heading for the royal meeting in their thousands.
With all the long delays and disruption, the ongoing dispute between the union and the rail company will inevitably cause problems for racegoers expecting to travel from either Waterloo or Reading.
Having initially opted to monitor the situation, the racecourse has now decided to urge customers to forsake the train and drive to the meeting, which could well lead to added queues on all roads approaching the venue.
Royal Ascot, picture Liesl King
Nick Smith, Ascot's director of racing and communications, said: "We will communicate with customers if there's no resolution and we're in regular discussion with SWR.
"They will be putting in contingency plans and, from our perspective, the advice to customers will be that if they travel by train there will be delays and congestion.
"So they should consider driving to the meeting over the five days, as we have a number of pay on the day car parks which we can open up if necessary and they would, of course, be clearly signposted."
SWR REDUCED TIMETABLE
Extra morning and early evening trains will run between London Waterloo and Reading for racegoers travelling to and from Royal Ascot. Queuing systems will be in place at some stations during the event, so it may take extra time to board your train.
Ascot to Aldershot served by trains from 10.00 until 21.45 with rail replacement buses operating until mid-morning and late evening.
Two trains each hour will run between London Waterloo and Reading. Trains will not stop at Longcross station.
Steven Harry, media and public relations executive for SWR, implored racegoers and other passengers using the Waterloo to Reading service from next Tuesday to visit the SWR website for any updates.
He said: "There's a service update for each day next week, including a specific drop down menu for Royal Ascot services (after clicking each respective day)."