Three million commuters in the South-east face travel chaos as Christmas approaches because of industrial action by staff at London Underground.
Officials at the RMT rail union said the result of a ballot to be announced today was likely to back disruption in protest at a safety regime introduced by the public-private partnership which controls the Tube network. Union activists said the 8,000 members of the RMT had voted for stoppages and action short of strikes, which could begin next week.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said the disruption could start with drivers reducing speeds, and continue with walkouts if management did not respond to demands.
The RMT wants daily track inspections resumed and the imposition of speed restrictions as soon as a fault is discovered. But the main demand is for all track maintenance and renewal to be done by qualified LU staff. This places the RMT on collision course with the Government which has introduced a system where trains are run by the state-owned London Underground, but the infrastructure is controlled by two private consortiums.
The dispute flared after two derailments last month, one on the Piccadilly line at Hammersmith, the other on the Northern line at Camden Town.
Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner, has said the secrecy of the infrastructure companies is undermining safety. Transport for London had difficulty finding out precisely what maintenance work was being done, he added. He blamed Tube Lines, which maintains the points thought to have caused the Camden Town derailment, for withholding vital information. Tube Lines said the transport commissioner was limiting its freedom to manage.