Second two-day rail strike hits commuters after collapse of negotiations

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The Independent Online

Rail users face fresh disruption today after negotiations between South West Trains and union representatives collapsed last night.

Strikes will now go ahead for the next 48 hours with hundreds of thousands of commuters affected.

Meanwhile travellers in Scotland will have to endure reduced services as an emergency timetable came into effect this morning brought about by a dispute over pay.

Six hours of negotiations between South West Trains and leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union yesterday failed to avert more travel chaos only two days after an earlier strike ended. Almost nine out of 10 SWT trains were halted last Thursday and Friday because of industrial action.

Last night the union claimed that an offer from the company to settle the bitter dispute was worse than an earlier one. But SWT insisted it had met the union's pay claim in full.

The major sticking point was disciplinary action taken against Greg Tucker, an RMT official who was downgraded last year from a train driver to a ticket collector because of what the company insisted was a safety-related incident.

A company spokesman said: "It is now clear to us that, despite their protestations to the contrary, the RMT executive is hell-bent on a testimonial strike for one individual. We are desperately sorry for our customers that our efforts have failed to avert a strike."

The two sides have met for five separate negotiating sessions in the past week, but appear further apart than ever. Services across southern England and to and from Waterloo station in London will be crippled from early today.

An emergency timetable came into effect on ScotRail today with services reduced by 25 per cent because of a pay dispute. The Edinburgh-Glasgow service will be halved. Some drivers are refusing to work overtime or on rest days as they seek a £5,000 increase in the average salary to £28,000 – the equivalent of a 22 per cent pay rise.

The company has offered drivers 3 per cent and has told unions that any further increase will have to be self- financing through increased productivity.

Nick Brown, ScotRail's acting managing director, said: "The reason we are putting an emergency timetable in place is that we want to give our passengers a more consistent and reliable service from Monday."He saiddiscussions on resolving the pay claim were likely to last well into this week.

Phil McGarry, of the RMT, said he was "appalled" at Scot- Rail's suggestion that the drivers were involved in any kind of unofficial industrial action. "We are not in dispute at all. We have a number of individuals who are effectively withdrawing their rest days," Mr McGarry said.