BR aims to run half its trains in next strike

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The Independent Online
BRITISH RAIL plans to run 50 per cent of normal trains tomorrow, despite the eleventh signal staff strike called by the rail union RMT.

Railtrack, the employer, is to re-open the flagship East Coast main line over its full length from London King's Cross to Edinburgh for the first time since the dispute began, and improved services from Southampton to Waterloo are promised. Trains will also run from London St Pancras to Sheffield, and on the cross-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds.

But the big regional conurbations round Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool will still be without rail services, and the West Coast main line from London Euston to Glasgow is open for only part of its length.

BR's prediction that 'up to 50 per cent of services' - about 6,500-7,000 trains - will run was greeted with disbelief by rail union leaders. They said only one King's Cross-Scotland train was scheduled to run, and BR was cheating by counting trains that would run as normal during the morning. The 24- hour walk-out by signal staff does not start until midday.

The war of words over services reflects the continuing chasm between the two sides. Railtrack refuses to shift from its pounds 4.3m global 'pot' available for pay restructuring, while RMT negotiators insist on an interim wage increase to take account of past productivity.

Three former BR executives have been privately canvassing all the parties and the conciliation service Acas with ideas to break the impasse. The trio - Peter Rayner, former manager of London Midland Region, Ken Shingleton, ex-divisional manager at Reading, and Stan Hall, former safety officer (signalling) to the BR Board - have offered themselves as a 'three wise men' arbitration body.

They have also offered to act as professional back-up to Sir Peter Parker, the former British Rail chairman who has emerged as a prospective arbitrator. Interest in the scheme is only lukewarm, and they now fear BR's latest moves to help break the strike will make arbitration virtually impossible.

Most signal staff transferred to Railtrack when the industry was split on 1 April in readiness for privatisation, but British Rail has begun sounding out its employees to see if those who retain signalling expertise are willing to be seconded to Railtrack for the duration of the dispute.

BR sources admit they may be talking in terms of 'tens not hundreds' of volunteers to retrain and take the place of striking signal staff. An RMT spokesman said: 'It is simply not worth it to get a couple of dozen people. It will not help Railtrack to run more trains, but it will do long-term damage to industrial relations.'

Most of the BR employees being approached to break the strike belong to the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, whose deputy general secretary, Charles Cullen, voiced fears yesterday that jobs would be lost in a protracted dispute. 'BR and Railtrack appear to be digging in for a long-term situation. A long haul means big damage in terms of lost revenue and lost traffic - and that will have an impact on jobs.'

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