Three-day Tube strikes and Christmas walkouts loom

For the thousands of London commuters who were forced to squeeze into packed Tube trains, stand on overcrowded buses or trudge to work in sub-zero temperatures yesterday, it was scarcely possible to believe their Monday could get any worse.

The fourth 24-hour Tube strike in three months was bad enough. But with no sign of a resolution between workers and London Underground's management, the unions are threatening to extend their walkouts to last up to three days at a time.

The two unions involved said yesterday that they were under intense pressure from their members to increase disruption as they attempt to head off a plan to cut 800 ticket office jobs.

The leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) ruled out another strike over Christmas and the new year.

Officials from both unions will now consider their next move and could announce further strikes as soon as this week. As well as the possibility of two- and three-day walkouts, they will also consider week-long industrial action.

London Underground's cost-reduction plan, involving cuts to ticket office staff, would see savings of around £16m a year. Ticket offices would be closed earlier, with a total reduction in opening times of 7,500 hours. Six stations will also see a reduction in the number of ticket windows. Officials say no compulsory redundancies will be made.

It also emerged yesterday that train passengers across Britain face significant disruption over the Christmas and new year period as major engineering work will be taking place.

The West Coast Main Line will be affected because of work being carried out at Birmingham, while line improvements at Reading will also cause problems on the Great Western line to the South-west. Network Rail, which oversees the engineering work schedule, said more trains would run during the Christmas period than last year, with fewer replacement buses needed to cater for cancelled rail services.

Trains run by as many as 15 different companies could be affected by the disruption, due to take place between 23 December and 4 January.

According to Network Rail, there will be 10,000 more trains running over Christmas and new year than last year and more than 2,500 fewer replacement buses. It said 90 per cent of the rail network would be unaffected by engineering work.