Scottish rail strike hits commuters

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Thousands of rail passengers faced travel misery today as signal workers staged the first of two strikes this week.

Network Rail workers in Scotland walked out for 24 hours from noon and will strike again on Thursday from the same time.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and Network Rail management will meet for more talks tomorrow in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

The discussions, facilitated by conciliation service Acas, are expected to take place at Network Rail's offices in Glasgow at about 2pm tomorrow, just after the first strike ends.

Last-ditch talks aimed at stopping the strike collapsed yesterday after no agreement was reached on the dispute over staff rosters.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said: "It must be a good sign that both sides are willing to resume talks and I welcome this development.

"It is deeply unfortunate that one remaining issue in the dispute has resulted in substantial inconvenience to the travelling public today and tomorrow and both the union and management must do their utmost to resolve their differences and avoid a repetition of the action."

Services wound down after the morning rush-hour today, affecting all major routes north of the border.

About 450 workers are involved in the dispute and the strike has been planned to stretch over four days.

Operator First ScotRail said journeys will be "severely disrupted".

As well as the strike, a ban on overtime and rest-day working starts today.

Thousands of passengers faced cancellations or disruptions as hundreds of journeys were cut.

Services on the major commuter route between Edinburgh and Glasgow were reduced by about half, with the last service at 6pm.

During tomorrow morning's rush-hour, no trains will travel north of Stirling and replacement bus services were put on to cities including Aberdeen and Inverness.

First ScotRail said it would run "as robust a timetable as possible in the circumstances".

Virgin Trains cancelled this evening's Edinburgh to Birmingham and Glasgow Central to Manchester trains, and two cross-border trains early tomorrow morning.

Some Virgin services from England to Scotland will also be cancelled or diverted.

Despite hours of talks in Glasgow mediated by Acas, the two sides have been unable to resolve the dispute.

The RMT said Network Rail wants to make changes to rostered hours at short notice. The union is also angry about the issue of transfers.

Network Rail disputes the accusation about rosters and says it has no intention of changing the established principle that rostered hours are binding.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Network Rail is blatantly trying to unilaterally rewrite agreements without consulting the workforce."

Ian Macintyre, RMT regional organiser for Scotland and Northern Ireland, was on the picket line at Glasgow's Central Station today.

He said: "Our members are as resolved as ever and they are happy that we are going in there and trying to get some resolution with the company.

"There is a very good turn-out here at Glasgow Central. Our signallers are very united.

"We are happy that there are talks tomorrow but they have got to be meaningful."

Network Rail said it was "bitterly disappointed" by the failure of negotiations and accused the union of refusing to shift its position.

A spokesman welcomed the prospect of more talks tomorrow.

He said: "Anything we can do to resolve any more disruption to passengers, the better, really, so we will go in hoping that we can find a resolution to the issue."

The Scottish Government said the First Minister has been in regular contact with both the RMT and Network Rail since the breakdown of talks yesterday, and has also been in contact with Acas.