One-day strike paralyses rail network

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The Independent Online
The railways came to a virtual standstill yesterday as train drivers staged the first of six 24-hour stoppages. Union leaders said there was worse to come.

The management and the drivers' union Aslef held out little hope of avoiding next Tuesday's stoppage, which is likely to lead to increased congestion on the roads with commuters expected to make a greater effort to get to work.

A week next Thursday, London faces even greater problems when Underground staff are scheduled to walk out at the same time as BR drivers. Members of the RMT, the industry's biggest union, have already voted to to take action on the Tube system and leaders of Aslef yesterday expressed confidence that their members were voting to join the dispute.

While London Underground management could run a skeleton service without RMT members, a walkout by drivers would mean a complete shutdown. The Aslef ballot result is due next Wednesday.

Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, denied accusations that the Government was privately happy to let the strikes continue, especially as the stoppage on 27 July coincides with the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election. He said he was "deeply committed" to the railways and urged Aslef to enter talks.

Both sides yesterday registered their readiness to resume contact over a 3 per cent pay offer, but the chances of serious negotiations were remote. The union is demanding a general increase above the 3.4 per cent inflation rate and management will only countenance an eventual one-off bonus payment if financial targets are met.

Lew Adams, general secretary of Aslef, said the gap between Tuesday's stoppage and the more damaging strikes on 27 July provided a "window of opportunity" for talks. Further strikes involving both BR and London Underground are due on 8 and 25 August and 12 September.

Management said BR provided about 200 services yesterday. In the South-east, just 10 out of the normal 17,000 services ran. There were two trains from Norwich to London, and one return service from Bristol to London. One train ran from Hereford to Worcester and on Humberside there were trains between Hull and Bridlington. Some trains operated from Manchester to the city's airport, and to Stockport and Glossop. And yesterday, British Rail warned that the drivers' strike could deal a far more serious blow to the industry than last year's industrial action by signalworkers.

Whereas the average daily cost of he stoppages by signal staff was estimated at pounds 8m a day, 24-hour strikes by Aslef will each cost British Rail around pounds 10m. Senior officials said the industry was still struggling to recover from last year's action and estimated that 2 per cent of passengers were lost permanently.

While revenue in London and the South- east resumed its growth within months, elsewhere, the picture is worse.