Industrial strife is threatening to engulf the railway network. Three more operators were served notice of strike ballots yesterday in separate disputes over pay, taking the number at odds with the unions to six.
On a day that saw large tracts of northern England's railway system hit by the start of a 48-hour strike by guards, the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union announced it was holding ballots for action at Silverlink trains and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in London.
A ballot of London Underground train drivers, simultaneous to the DLR vote though over a separate pay dispute, was compounded by a strike threat among train drivers on ScotRail. They are to vote on 24-hour stoppages as part of a campaign to win parity with drivers in other regions, the train drivers' union Aslef announced yesterday.
The two London strikes would be launched against the two companies at the same time, causing huge disruption in the capital, which was paralysed by Tube strikes last May and narrowly avoided more last October.
The RMT said it had rejected a 4 per cent pay offer on behalf of its members who work as train "captains" on driverless Docklands trains, arguing that the £22,300 salaries were below the average in the capital and worse than those of LU staff.
RMT members at Silverlink, which runs trains between London, the northern Home Counties and the Midlands, have also rejected a pay offer, by 66 to 55 votes, despite the union's recommended acceptance of the package, worth 3.3 per cent from last June, 3 per cent from this June and a cut in the working week.
The potential consequences of such action was visited upon northern England for the first time during the network's current industrial strife when a strike caused the cancellation of most of Arriva Trains Northern's 1,600 services, which are used by 100,000 people.
With north-west England threatened with strikes by paramedic teams, postal workers and Manchester airport security staff, RMT members walked out in a dispute over pay rise disparities between drivers and guards.
The worst of the ensuing chaos may be yet to come – snow is predicted in some parts of the North today, rendering road travel equally dicey – but some characteristic grit counteracted the virtual closure of stations such as Leeds City, one of the biggest outside London.
Leeds' large financial services firms indicated that staff had car-shared and used buses, helping to reduce the logjams expected by the AA on the M62, which is notorious for its rush hours, around Leeds and Manchester.
In Newcastle upon Tyne, Simon Squires, a teacher making his daily journey from Durham to Newcastle on one of Arriva's skeleton rail services, which used managers as conductors, said: "We all took a leaflet ... which said 'This one will run' in capital letters and we took them at their word. It was the usual time – five minutes late – that's fairly average."
Tony Blair, taking a train north in a show of support for the beleaguered rail network, was more fortunate. His GNER service arrived right on time at 3.19pm in Darlington, County Durham
The reasons for the strike were similar to those behind two 48-hour stoppages on South West Trains earlier this month: the union wants to see pay for guards and station staff rise in line with the pay deal given to train drivers. Arriva has offered a basic increase for conductors of 3 per cent from £15,500 to £16,763 with a further 5 per cent achievable through productivity gains.
The RMT has also announced a further 48-hour strike by guards on Arriva Trains Northern for 5 and 6 February. Tenon, a professional services organisation, estimated that the strike would cost £7m in lost fares and productivity.
Meanwhile, there is apparently no way through an impasse at Manchester airport, where security workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over plans to introduce new shifts, cut wages and up to 150 jobs.
On Merseyside, an all-out ambulance strike is also on the cards after Liverpool and Sefton paramedics voted to walk out in support of two suspended colleagues. Postal workers in nearby Ormskirk, Lancashire, are also preparing to strike in support of a sacked colleague.
Trouble on the line
Second day of 48-hour strike today over disparity between guards? and drivers? pay. A second 48-hour walk-out on 5 and 6 February will again hit 1,600 services.
South West Trains
Two-day strike to go ahead next Monday and Tuesday. Management and RMT union unable to agree on conditions for meeting again to resolve pay dispute. SWT expects to operate more than 500 trains compared to the usual 1,700.
RMT members reject a pay offer worth 3.3 per cent from last June, 3 per cent from this June and a cut in the working week, despite the union's recommended acceptance of the offer.
Ballot and potential strike to coincide with DLR over separate pay claim.
RMT rejects 4 per cent pay offer for train "captains" on driverless Docklands trains.
Aslef calls vote for one-day stoppages to win parity with drivers in other regions.