Separate train strikes cause chaos in North

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The Independent Online

Disruption to the rail network caused by industrial action showed no sign of abating yesterday, with two strikes in northern England coinciding with the threat of more chaos on the London Underground.

Operators of Tyne and Wear's Metro system had intended to open a long-awaited £100m link between Newcastle and Sunderland before the train drivers' union Aslef decided to take industrial action over pay, depriving the route of drivers needed to make it operable. Further proposed strikes include one on 7 May, the day the Queen is due to open the extension.

Nexus, the company that runs the service, said only 50 per cent of services on its entire system were running yesterday and accused drivers of "snubbing" the people of Sunderland, who had eagerly awaited the new service.

The company said it had increased its pay offer by 0.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent on an average basic annual salary of £23,400 for drivers, many of whom can expect to earn £30,000 with overtime this year.

Aslef said about 80 Metro drivers were striking because they were "fed up" with being the lowest-paid drivers in the country.

Meanwhile, commuters in north-west England faced severe disruption after nearly 700 train drivers staged the first of three walkouts in a dispute over disciplinary action. The train operator First North Western cancelled all its services after the 24-hour strike by Aslef members began.

Last month, union members voted by more than 10 to one in favour of the strikes in a long-running dispute over the disciplining of a number of its members. Further strikes are planned for Friday and Monday. The dispute follows the sacking of a driver who went through two consecutive red lights.

Meanwhile, leaders of thousands of London Underground workers rejected a pay offer and warned of a dispute unless an improvement is made within two weeks. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said an offer of a 2 per cent rise or a three-year deal worth 2.5 per cent now and at least 2 per cent in each of the following two years was an "insult".

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