High-speed lines close as repairwork gathers pace

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The Independent Online

Somoe of the country's busiest high speed train routes will effectively be shut down tomorrow, as Britain's biggest rail replacement project continues.

Somoe of the country's busiest high speed train routes will effectively be shut down tomorrow, as Britain's biggest rail replacement project continues.

One of the most extensive "re-railing" operations began last night on the east coast main line where a Great North Eastern Railways (GNER) express crashed near Hatfield on 17 October, killing four people.

Much to the embarrassment of Railtrack, a broken rail was discovered yesterday on the section of track used by trains diverted around the site of the Hatfield disaster. Rail inspectors say the GNER train came off the track because of a broken rail.

Yesterday's discovery was spotted at Cuffley, Hertfordshire, by a West Anglia Great Northern (WAGN) driver on the 7.06am London to Cambridge service. As Railtrack replaced the track, WAGN and GNER services were further disrupted by single-line operations. Even before the broken rail discovery, GNER was "strongly advising" passengers not to use its London-Scotland service this weekend unless absolutely necessary.

"Direct London to Scotland services are not running north of York due to line side flooding at Kelton, and because Railtrack are relaying more than seven miles of track between Darlington and Durham," said a spokesman. Trains were running between London and York and between Newcastle and Edinburgh, but not between York and Newcastle.

On Thursday night, north-bound passengers were put on buses at York for the journey to Newcastle. One bus had to turn back because of flooding, and passengers were put up in hotels. A GNER spokesman said they hoped to open the line through Hatfield on 13 November, but there would be speed restrictions.

In the North-east and in the South-west, in the Bristol area, delays and closures were exacerbated by flooding.

The rail route near Bristol city centre, which was closed after a crash between a mail train and coal trucks on Wednesday, was reopened yesterday with a 20mph speed limit. The crash closed the main line between Bristol Temple Meads station and all routes to the north and west.

The rail industry, battered by the weather and disrupted by the mammoth programme of repair work, now faces five day-long stoppages on Eurotunnel's shuttle service between Britain and France with strikes threatened by train drivers. Crews have voted to walk out over management's refusal to recognise the drivers' union Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef) for collective bargaining.

Drivers are to walk out on 20 and 27 November and 4, 11 and 18 December. The industrial action will not affect the Eurostar services from Waterloo to the Continent. In the summer Eurotunnel, which runs the car shuttle service between Folkestone and Calais, said the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) would have sole recognition rights.

Mick Rix, general secretary of Aslef, said his members had voted 88 to 61 in favour to take action over the company's "unreasonable" failure to recognise his union. "Most train crew members at Eurotunnel have joined Aslef, and the company should listen to their wishes," he said.

"Every other train-operating company in the country has been able to work constructively with Aslef. I hope Eurotunnel abandon their undemocratic intransigence and agree to meet the union before the strikes."

Eurotunnel said a majority of the train crew were not in favour of strikes - 220 were balloted, and just 88 agreed to industrial action. Bill Dix, managing director of Eurotunnel Shuttle Services, said passengers should not make alternative arrangements on strike days because half the drivers were based in France and were not involved in the ballot.

"We do not expect this proposed action will significantly disrupt services," he said. "We have contingency plans." An overtime ban called on the issue had a minimal impact on the timetable.