Protest greets Prescott launch

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AN ATTEMPT by the Government and the privatised rail industry to show a united face ahead of a meeting on train performance this week was hijacked yesterday by a protest over a sacked trade unionist.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, was heckled as he launched an initiative by Virgin Trains to recruit and train 2,000 new locomotive drivers.

Supporters of Steve Hedley, a staff representative of the railway union RMT, drowned out a speech by Brian Barrett, Virgin Trains' chief executive, at Euston station in London yesterday. Mr Prescott offered to meet the handful of protesters after the event, but they had dispersed by the time it ended.

The RMT wants Mr Hedley reinstated by GTRM, the railway maintenance company, which sacked him during a separate industrial action over pay and conditions. A criminal prosecution against Mr Hedley was dropped earlier this month.

Mr Prescott is to meet the heads of all 25 train companies and Railtrack on Thursday to discuss the "appalling" level of performance. He said yesterday: "I want a better quality of service and to work in partnership to see how we can achieve that."