Tube drivers balloted for action

London Underground drivers are to be balloted for industrial action it was announced today, as it was claimed that passengers had suffered the "worst week" of chaos on the Tube because of signal failures, faulty trains and staffing problems.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said its members will vote on whether to take action short of a strike in a dispute over safety.

The union listed a series of issues, including a new procedure for reversing a train, faults in platform camera systems and the consequences of "massive reductions" in staff.

The RMT also claimed that management wanted to remove the inbuilt function which stops a train if an object is caught in the door, which it said would allow a driver to proceed after a visual check.

General secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT has demanded an end to the reckless policy of expecting drivers to override door fail-safe systems after a potentially fatal incident in which a passenger jumped from a moving train and another was caught in its open doors.

"Despite that, the 'sensitive edge' procedures, along with a whole bunch of other unsafe procedures, are being bulldozed through in the dash for cuts, and to cover up the impact of reductions in station staff, under the guise of "operational effectiveness".

"It is our members who have to deal with the consequences of these ill-conceived policies. We have tried to get LUL to see sense, but they have continued to put cash and job cuts ahead of passenger safety and we now have no choice but to ballot for action to put a stop to these dangerous proposals being imposed without agreement."

Meanwhile, Labour said that millions of Londoners had been forced to endure line closures, suspensions and delays this week including 33 separate delays, closures and suspensions caused by signal failures, faulty trains and non-availability of staff.

District Line passengers were worst hit with nine severe delays, suspensions and closures, while users of the Circle Line suffered inconvenience following four line suspensions, said Labour, adding that in the last six days the District and Circle lines were both suspended three times and the Victoria, Hammersmith & City Line and Northern Line were all part-suspended once.

Labour pointed out that the delays happened during a week when London Mayor Boris Johnson "boasted" about the Tube's performance during his speech to the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester.

Labour's transport spokeswoman Val Shawcross said: "I can't remember a worse week of delays on the Tube. No line has been spared delays this week with severe delays and whole line suspensions causing huge inconvenience to the daily lives of millions of Londoners.

"It's simply not good enough when Londoners tell me that delays are the norm, not the exception, whilst they are paying record high fares to use a Tube service which we cannot rely on.

"While Boris Johnson was boasting about how great London's Tube services were to the Conservative Party conference this week, millions of Londoners were stuck on Tube trains."

Mike Brown, managing director of London Underground, said: "We're investing billions to upgrade the Tube and, overall, services are improving with more frequent and reliable services. Delays are down by over a third since the programme of work to upgrade the network began while at the same time the Tube is carrying a record numbers of passengers - 1.1 billion last year.

"We are running more trains than ever on the Jubilee line, air conditioned trains are being delivered on the network and there's a whole new fleet of trains on the Victoria line.

"However, some of the essential components of the Tube network are very old, and many of the issues faced this week have been caused by worn out equipment. The District line, for example, relies on signalling from the 1960s. We are investing hugely in upgrading the network and are working round the clock to further improve reliability.

"Our engineers and operational staff are also developing innovative maintenance practices to improve the performance of the network. Critical spare equipment and key technical personnel are located across the network to respond to incidents rapidly and we work with the police to get replacement equipment to where it is needed urgently."

On the RMT ballot, Howard Collins, London Underground's chief operating officer, said: "These procedural changes will significantly help our response to incidents, reducing unnecessary delay and crowding and improving customer service.

"The changes, which have already been in place for a couple of weeks and delivering real benefits, have been exhaustively consulted upon with union representatives over the last two years and do not compromise any aspect of the Underground's stringent safety procedures.

"For the RMT leadership to threaten industrial action on this issue is therefore simply astonishing. We strongly urge the union leadership to withdraw their threat and engage with us constructively so that Londoners can be assured that they will not face any needless disruption."

A spokesman for London's Mayor Boris Johnson said: "While Boris Johnson is overseeing a massive investment in the Tube to improve reliability, Ken Livingstone (Labour's Mayoral candidate), his campaign and campaign supporter Bob Crow are teaming up to derail this investment.

"Mr Livingstone did little to invest in the Tube. Under his tenure £2 billion of taxpayers' money was wasted without any upgrades delivered. That is his track record.

"With an election looming, he and Labour are again more interested in playing politics than actually delivering for Londoners. They are making promises to get Londoners' vote without any evidence they will keep those promises but very real evidence that those promises will put all this investment at risk."