Firefighters' strike will close down Tube stations

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The Independent Online

Some of London Underground's busiest stations will be closed during the expected strikes by firefighters, causing severe disruption for passengers.

At least 19 stations, where passenger access is primarily by lift, will be shut during the stoppages, which begin in less than two weeks' time and could last up to eight days.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is expected to announce an overwhelming vote for national walkouts this Friday, with the first industrial action to come seven days later.

London Underground said the following stations would definitely close: Wapping, Belsize Park, Borough, Caledonian Road, Covent Garden, the Bakerloo line section of Edgware Road, Elephant and Castle, Gloucester Road, Goodge Street, Hampstead, Holland Park, Kennington, Lambeth North, Lancaster Gate, Mornington Crescent, Queensway, Regent's Park, Russell Square and Tufnell Park.

Trains will run through the stations without stopping, but management said services would be maintained.

"Although there is a minimal increase in danger, we want to err on the side of safety," a spokeswoman said. She said there were no plans to close any other stations or halt services, but the RMT rail union has warned that its members may stop work on health and safety ground, and other stations could be affected. During the last national firefighters' strike in 1977-78 Tube services continued as normal, but legislation introduced after the King's Cross disaster has tightened regulations.

The FBU is threatening industrial action in protest at a 4 per cent pay rise offer instead of the 40 per cent it is demanding, which would put firefighters on £30,000 a year. The union has refused to participate in a government-backed review of modernisation and pay in the service which is due to report in mid-December.

Air travel is likely to continue as normal, despite an admission by the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, that safety cover will be inferior. The Civil Aviation Authority has scrutinised plans drawn up by airports and will allow flights to continue.

Firefighters employed by the main airports are not involved in the dispute. But airport operators and local authorities are dutybound to draw up plans for major emergencies which could require the involvement of outside fire brigades.

Eurotunnel, which runs the Channel Tunnel, also plans to continue services despite warnings from the FBU that such operations would be unsafe. A spokesman said the company's representatives were in talks with the Kent fire brigade and French authorities to ensure that the rail link was maintained. But the FBU said it had assurances from colleagues in France that they would not provide cover for the whole tunnel.

The union has warned that it would be unsafe for rail services to continue when its members' work was being undertaken by "poorly trained" soldiers manning 50-year-old Green Goddess fire engines.

During the first national strike in 1977-78, senior fire officers were not involved in the industrial action and were deployed on the Green Goddesses. Since then, more senior staff have joined the FBU and will therefore be involved in the industrial action.