Scotland faces rail disruption as disputes spread

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The Independent Online

Britain's rail system faces serious disruption on two fronts from next week, with one in four services in Scotland cancelled and nine out of ten scrapped on the nation's busiest commuter network in southern England.

Last night ScotRail introduced an emergency timetable to operate from Monday after drivers refused to work on their "rest" days in a dispute over pay.

Meanwhile, travellers using South West Trains' services to and from London Waterloo were warned to expect renewed chaos on Monday and Tuesday after talks failed to avert a second 48-hour strike.

Scottish services affected include the main Edinburgh to Glasgow line, which will run half-hourly rather than every 15 minutes, and many commuter services through Glasgow. Nick Brown, acting managing director at ScotRail, said he regretted having to introduce the timetable but said the move would ensure passengers received a "consistent and reliable" service.

Drivers have been refusing to work on their rest days in support of a 22 per cent pay claim. ScotRail maintains it cannot afford to offer more than 3 per cent, a deal that would come with "no strings attached".

In the South West Trains dispute, leaders of the RMT rail union are due to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to order more stoppages after the two-day walkout yesterday and Thursday and the strike planned for Monday and Tuesday. Under labour law the union has to give management seven working days' warning before further strikes.

Management and union leaders have clashed over wages and alleged victimisation of RMT representatives. The second day of a 48-hour stoppage yesterday crippled services for hundreds of thousands of passengers, although management claimed that more services ran yesterday than on Thursday.

Vernon Hince, the RMT's acting general secretary, spent more than two hours negotiating with the company yesterday, but the meeting ended without agreement.

The train operator told Mr Hince that it would refuse to negotiate unless the union suspended industrial action. Mr Hince said this had tied the union's hands.

In a separate development yesterday, Whitehall officials finally revealed that the holiday destination of Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, was southern India. Mr Byers had been accused of deserting his post at a difficult time for the rail industry.

¿ Railtrack plans to close its only line to Cornwall over Easter for engineering work, it emerged last night. The move, which will involve replacement buses running from Plymouth from 30 March to 1 April, has been attacked by tourism officials, who say it could cost the industry £1.8m. An average of 20,000 tourists travel by train to Cornwall for the Easter break.