BR preparing to run expanded strike service: Sixth Wednesday stoppage set to go ahead

BRITISH RAIL is expecting to run more than 20 per cent of the normal train timetable during the sixth 24-hour strike by signal workers, which starts at midnight tonight.

Railtrack was concentrating on improving the 3,000-train service that operated despite last Wednesday's stoppage as prospects of a settlement with the RMT transport union looked remote.

The company also started a 'hearts and minds' campaign among employees yesterday, promoting an offer which would yield an increase of 3 per cent in return for productivity improvements.

No fresh talks were in prospect, but both sides were expected to come under increasing pressure to get back to negotiations ahead of next week's stoppage, which is due to last from noon on Tuesday until noon on Thursday.

Union leaders have also called a 24-hour strike the following week and a two-day stoppage in the week beginning 7 August.

Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT transport workers' union, is expected to meet the chief railway inspector this week about safety infringements. He hopes to present allegations from train drivers in the Aslef union.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, told the Commons yesterday he hoped the two sides could resume talks, adding that not all the issues 'have been thoroughly discussed and negotiated'. He warned: 'Escalating the strike to two days a week does look like a throwback to . . . the 1970s.'

Brian Wilson, Labour spokesman on transport, demanded assurances on safety during the strikes and expressed concern at signal boxes being manned by people who would not normally do the job.

One rail operator, InterCity Great Western, was offering cut- price fares as an incentive. It will sell pounds 10 standard day-return tickets for any off-peak service tomorrow and expects to run 80 per cent of its core routes linking London to Bristol, Plymouth or Cardiff.

Among routes likely to operate tomorrow for the first time during the strikes, or with greatly improved services are: London King's Cross to Peterborough on InterCity East Coast - 30 trains ran last Wednesday but it is hoped 54 will run this week; South Eastern's London Victoria and London Blackfriars to Gillingham and Chatham in Kent; South Eastern's 'Catford loop' linking Sevenoaks, Catford and Blackfriars; London Victoria to Sutton on Network SouthCentral.