More Tube and rail strikes ahead

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HOURS BEFORE a four-day strike by rail maintenance workers throughout Britain began at midnight last night their union announced a second stoppage on London Underground to coincide with the final of the football World Cup.

Officials at the RMT rail union believe the 12 July walkout on the Underground will be popular with their members and with travellers who might want an excuse to stay home and watch the World Cup.

Conveniently, the Tube strike will begin at 6.30pm, just one and a half hours before the kick off in France. The first 48-hour stoppage last Monday and Tuesday coincided with England's first game against Tunisia in Marseilles.

The 9,000 members of RMT at London Underground are protesting over the potential impact of the partial privatisation of the system on their terms and conditions.

Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the union, who will lead employees' representatives in talks with management before the next industrial action said: "The ball is now in management's court. We have agreed to meet them and it's up to them to negotiate in a constructive way."

Both management and John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, who has masterminded the partial sell-off, contend that pensions and concessionary travel - the two issues at the heart of the dispute - will not be undermined by the scheme.

On the old British Rail network, employees at nine railway engineering companies walked out at midnight last night and intend to stage a week- long strike later this month.

Union officials warned that the action would have a considerable cumulative effect on services.

Passengers could expect cancellations and delays this weekend, RMT officials said.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said there was "strong support" for the industrial action which is in protest at plans to restructure pay systems.

Mr Knapp said: "Management is asking too much for too little." Talks had been held with some firms but the union claimed there had been insufficient progress.

Train operators argued that the dispute would have no immediate effect. Virgin Trains said that the strike would only mean that repairs took "a little longer than usual". Railtrack said there "would be a minimal effect".