Tube may shut at the Millennium

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LONDON UNDERGROUND drivers want the whole system to close for the millennium celebrations, it emerged last night. A motion tabled for the annual conference next month of ASLEF, the drivers' union, seeks the shutdown of the network between 9pm on 31 December and the first scheduled services on 2 January, 2000.

Tube drivers' representatives called for negotiations on the issue, but will argue for a ballot on a 24-hour strike if management insists on trying to run services. A senior ASLEF member said last night that there was a growing feeling among drivers that they wanted to spend the millennium holidays with their family and friends. Without ASLEF drivers, management will not be able to operate the system.

It is thought that there could be a similar feeling among drivers on the "overground" network throughout Britain, which could mean closures elsewhere and considerable inconvenience for the public. The tube drivers' colleagues who run stations and signalling equipment yesterday called for a pounds 500 shift bonus for working New Year's Eve night and New Year's Day.

The demand by their union, the RMT, follows news that pounds 24,000-a-year engineers working on the Northern Line have been offered pounds 500 on top of their normal wages if they volunteer for work over the holiday. London Underground management now face prolonged negotiations with the unions after which they will have to decide whether to close the system or incur massive extra expenditure. Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT, said his union would be seeking to match the engineers' bonus in talks with management for additional payments on other lines.

Mr Crow said that management was planning to run a service throughout New Year's Eve night and New Year's Day. It wanted to run a train every two minutes through central London. "Our principal concern is safety for our members working over the millennium bank holiday," he said. "The pubs will be open all the time and we will want to ensure they will have adequate police protection.

"The crowds could be far heavier than a normal rush-hour and it is going to be no fun for staff on the ticket barriers at the main stations that night. Secondly, we want only volunteers to work. After that we want a proper level of pay for those who do work while the rest of London is enjoying itself." A spokesman for London Underground said that decisions on whether to run a tube service all night and the levels of pay had yet to be made.