New rail strike as conciliators admit defeat

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THE signal workers' dispute became a war of attrition yesterday with the RMT union announcing another strike and the conciliation service Acas admitting that it had failed.

Sir Bob Reid, chairman of British Rail, who until now had played a neutral role, threatened to intervene on the side of Railtrack by sending BR employees into signal boxes to help to beat the strikes.

Neither side shows any sign of backing down. The national executive of the RMT last night called a further 24-hour strike lasting from noon on Monday 22 August until noon the following day.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said: 'I am bitterly disappointed at yet another lost opportunity. We have tried very hard to inject constructive ideas to enable negotiations to get under way, but these have been rejected by Railtrack.'

The decision came hours before the start of the longest period of disruption to services so far. The signal workers are on strike today and again on Monday and Tuesday. British Rail is hoping to run about one third of normal services during the strikes and to minimise disruption over the weekend.

Acas, which had spent three days shuttling between the two sides, said last night: 'It has not been possible at this stage to establish a basis for agreement. No further discussions are planned.'

BR's growing concern about the damage to its business was illustrated yesterday when Sir Bob Reid said that his staff could be called in to help to operate signal boxes. He said that there would be 'no alternative but to look for a different, much more dangerous solution'.

Asked what that solution was, he replied: 'We have got to help people to run the boxes. That's what it comes down to. I don't want to see our business disappear.'

This would represent a sharp change in policy by BR, which is responsible for the whole network, and which until now has stayed out of the dispute between the union and Railtrack, which runs the track and signalling system. Although BR and Railtrack are now different companies a spokesman for the latter said that it saw no problem about staff from the two working side by side.

Trains that will run, page 4