Tube strike 2014: Are lives at risk from ‘lethal overcrowding’ as industrial action hits London’s underground services?

Unions say managers are ‘ignoring every regulation in the book’ to keep services going

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The Independent Online

As millions of commuters in London faced long delays and disruption on underground services today, there were concerns that the services continuing in spite of a 48-hour Tube strike are putting passenger safety at risk.

Last night members of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) walked out in protest against the closure of all underground ticket offices and the loss of 950 jobs.

Today, with rush-hour commuters squeezing onto the remaining train services across eight of the Tube's 11 lines, pictures showed platforms and trains experiencing far greater than usual crowding.

The TSSA said London Underground (LU) had promised an "army" of volunteers to help control crowds, but that these so-called "ambassadors" failed to materialise.

And RMT released an image showing what it described as “lethal overcrowding” at the bottom of a set of escalators at Waterloo station.

"As LU rip up the safety rule book, this union launches immediate call for a full safety inquiry into deadly conditions," RMT said. "Managers [are] ignoring every regulation in the book and exposing passengers to serious crushing and trampling risk."

The TSSA boss Manuel Cortes said London Mayor Boris Johnson “ should be charged with wasting police time” after it said 26 police officers were on duty outside Brixton station, and more than a dozen at Stratford, controlling crowds and re-directing commuters.

"Last week, he claimed he had a 1,000-strong army of volunteers who would keep the capital moving," Mr Cortes said.

"Well, they proved to be a phantom army. Just like his pledge to keep all Tube ticket offices open, this turns out to be another inoperative statement."

Nigel Holness, LU's operations director, disputed union claims about ambassadors and said staff were "working hard to keep customers safe".

He said: "As Londoners will have seen for themselves, we've had hundreds of volunteers out today to help customers get around. We'll have hundreds out during the evening peak as well.

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"Some stations, particularly the main rail termini, will clearly be very busy because of this pointless strike by the RMT and TSSA, but our staff are working hard to keep customers safe, and keep London moving and open for business today. We're running over a third of normal services, serving around 70 per cent of stations on eight out of 11 lines."

RMT leader Bob Crow told BBC London 94.9: "As we expected the action is rock solid this morning and has reduced the network to a skeleton service with only a few ghost trains running through closed stations.

"That is simply a reflection of the staff anger at attempts to bulldoze through cuts to jobs, services and safety which would reduce the Tube to a dangerous, hollowed-out shell."

RMT leader Bob Crow on the phone to Boris Johnson outside City Hall

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said he "unreservedly condemned" today's Tube strike and said there was no reason for workers to participate.

He said: "We need a modernised Tube line working for the millions of Londoners who use it every day.

"The fact is only 3 per cent of transactions now involve ticket offices to it makes sense to have fewer people in those offices but more people on the platforms and the stations."

Commuters wait for gates to open to the District Line at Liverpool Street station at 7am this morning

The strike means there will be a limited service across the London Underground until Friday morning.

Boris Johnson said today: "We are doing all we can to try and get people to work. I recognise in some cases it is difficult, and I feel enormous sympathy for Londoners this morning, but the blame for this strike lies squarely with union leaders who have resorted to myths and stunts in a pathetic attempt to justify a strike that is utterly pointless.

"It's appalling that a tiny minority of union members have sought to disrupt the working lives of millions of Londoners today. It's clear that at a minimum we need a 50 per cent strike threshold for a key public service like the mass transit system of our capital city.


"Tube modernisation is essential, and will actually mean there will be more, not less, members of staff on concourses and platforms to help passengers and keep commuters safe.

"These changes don't involve compulsory redundancies, will save millions that will be reinvested in the system, and are backed by over 80 per cent of Londoners, and yet the unions have refused to properly engage with TfLs consultation, and walked away from Acas this week."