Court forces rail unions to call off one-day strike

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The Independent Online

The main rail workers union called off its planned strike by guards last night after the action was outlawed by a High Court judge.

The main rail workers union called off its planned strike by guards last night after the action was outlawed by a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Turner ruled against the potentially crippling strike planned for next Friday, granting an injunction against the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union to train operators Virgin, South West Trains and Connex South Central. The union had been threatening the action over a new Railtrack rule book, which it said eroded the status of guards.

However, Andrew Clarke QC, representing the three rail companies, told the judge that the union clearly believed the new regulations contained safety enhancements. Yet it was demanding that Railtrack return to the old rules, at least until the end of the lengthy Cullen inquiry into the Paddington rail disaster. "There is an obligation on all of us involved in the railway industry to safeguard safety in accordance with the standards laid down by Railtrack.

"The train operators and the union will be in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act if they do not adopt the regulations," he said.

Guards at 19 companies voted to strike, with RMT members at four others voting against. Out of 6,000 guards, 2,000 voted, of whom 84 per cent were in favour.

John Bowers QC, for the union, said the it saw the erosion and "de-skilling" of the guards' role as the "thin end of the wedge". The RMT, he said, feared the train operators would eventually start employing students as guards.

Mr Justice Turner found in the operators' favour, saying he would give reasons for his ruling on Monday, but granting the RMT permission to appeal.

The decision came as mourners gathered in Reading for the funeral of Michael Hodder, 31, the Thames Train driver killed in the crash, and as Railtrack was forced into yet another embarrassing explanation.

On Thursday, the day that Paddington station reopened for the first time since the 5 October rail disaster, passengers on the 8.42pm Connex South Eastern train out of Charing Cross realised that they had taken a wrong turn where the line splits at the North Kent East junction and alerted the driver over an emergency intercom system.

"There was no way there could have been an accident," said a Railtrack spokesman. "It was a bit like motorists missing a turning off a motorway. They would not be going against the traffic but just continuing along the road."

The Health and Safety Executive said it would investigate the incident anyway. It would ensure that Connex looked into the history and training records of the driver while Railtrack checked the competence of the signaller.

London Underground also came under critical scrutiny after revelations that 570 signals had been passed at danger in the past year, 26 in the past month. The figures, revealed in the internal Noteworthy Incident Register, showed how danger signals were being passed on a daily basis.

Mike Strzelecki, London Underground's safety manager, confirmed the red light errors but insisted its safety systems offered 100 times more protection than those on the national rail network. Automatic train protection - which halts trains that pass red lights - has been in operation on the Tube network for 70 years.

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