Talks resume in bid to avoid rail strike

Talks aimed at resolving a row over plans to cut 1,500 railway maintenance jobs will resume today in a bid to avert a strike over Easter.

Maintenance, signalling and other workers backed a campaign of industrial action and dates for strikes could be set tomorrow unless there is progress during the talks between the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), the Rail Maritime and Transport union and Network Rail under the chairmanship of the conciliation service Acas.

A row over rail safety flared yesterday after the TSSA said it had been leaked documents showing that Network Rail was in breach of health and safety legislation over bridge inspections in Kent, Anglia and Wessex.

According to the union, the Office of Rail Regulation warned the rail firm that its inspection regime was "seriously out of date" and "did not meet the requirements of the standard for such matters" in these areas.

They served an improvement notice on the company giving it until March 31 to ensure that the "current backlog of inspections" is carried out and "that an effective monitoring regime is put in place for visual inspections to ensure that they are carried out to the required standard and within the appropriate timescale", said the TSSA.

A Network Rail spokesman said: "We would never compromise on safety. Such accusations are simply wrong. It's disappointing to see one of the unions we hope to have meaningful discussions with today grandstanding in this way."

A spokesman for the Office of Rail Regulation said: "The Office of Rail Regulation's frontline inspectors check railway safety arrangements across the GB rail network all year round, through a risk-based programme of targeted inspections.

"The improvement notice was served on Network Rail as part of this proactive programme. It directs the company to address a backlog in detailed inspections of bridges and other structures, to improve the quality and timeliness of its visual inspection regime, and to put in place an effective process for acting on the matters raised in such inspections in Kent, Anglia and Wessex.

"The structures inspections are all undertaken by a contractor, not the directly-employed maintenance workforce. Our inspectors will closely monitor Network Rail to ensure that appropriate action is taken."

TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: "These documents support what we have been saying all through this dispute. Network Rail is lowering safety standards on the network by cutting jobs and workloads in a money saving exercise."

Talks over the signallers' dispute were adjourned last night and will resume today before the RMT executive convenes tomorrow to decide its next move.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT remains committed to reaching a negotiated settlement that protects safety-critical jobs and safe staffing levels across the rail network and which puts the safety and security of the travelling public above the drive to hit financial cuts targets."

The RMT said the new safety row gave further evidence that the job cuts had already gone too far and were already compromising public safety before the impact of axing 1,500 further staff was felt.

Mr Crow said: "There is growing evidence across the country that Network Rail's cuts programme is already hitting the critical safety inspection regime hard and this reinforces our case that the company should now pull back from the brink before lethal damage is done.

"There is already a shortage of staff and to be axing maintenance posts and lumping extra work on to signallers under these circumstances is a reckless gamble with rail safety."

NR said the signallers' main issue was around rosters as the company pressed to move around 50 staff to a new four day a week roster.

Strikes by signal workers would cripple the rail network immediately, while NR believes it would take several days of action by maintenance workers to have an impact on train services.

An NR spokesman said: "Network Rail is pleased that the unions are continuing to talk with us on maintenance issues.

"Separately, we continue to talk with representatives of our signallers.

"We hope these talks will continue in a positive way so we can avoid unnecessary and damaging industrial action. A strike will not help union members or passengers and will hurt Britain's economy as we edge into recovery."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

£13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?