London Underground workers started a fresh wave of 24-hour strikes tonight, threatening travel chaos for days and costing the economy almost £50 million.
Thousands of members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association walked out at 5pm, with another wave at 9pm, in protest at plans to axe 800 jobs.
The action, to be followed by further stoppages in October and November, will disrupt Tube services, used by millions of passengers every day.
Mayor Boris Johnson criticised the industrial action as a "trumped-up and politically motivated" attempt to attack the coalition Government.
The strikes followed a 24-hour stoppage from 7pm last night by up to 200 maintenance staff at depots on the Jubilee and Northern lines in a separate row over pay and conditions, which the RMT said was "solidly" supported.
The RMT highlighted three recent incidents - fire scares at Euston and Oxford Circus and the arrest of a man with a sword and two loaded guns - as reasons for maintaining staffing numbers.
General secretary Bob Crow, who will join a picket line at Euston tomorrow morning, said: "We have laid out the clearest possible evidence to the mayor and his officials that if he breaks his promises and slashes station staffing numbers he will be giving the green light to disaster, and yet he is failing to take any account of the hard facts of these three recent incidents - each of which could have had lethal consequences.
"Boris Johnson opposed these very cuts before he was elected and now stands accused of rank political opportunism as his officials take the axe to safety standards right across the Tube network with the prospect of worse to come this autumn. That's what RMT and TSSA are striking over - the whole future of a safe Tube system is now on the block."
Mr Johnson said new staffing proposals were "moderate and sensible" and accused the unions of "cynically deciding to try the patience" of commuters.
"They will undoubtedly succeed in causing disruption to Tube services," the mayor wrote in tonight's London Evening Standard.
Howard Collins, LU's chief operating officer, said: "Londoners will no doubt find it incredible that, despite being given a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, the RMT and TSSA leaderships are still threatening to strike.
"London Underground needs to change, as we can't go on with a situation where some ticket offices sell fewer than 10 tickets an hour. But our staffing changes mean that every station that currently has a ticket office will retain one, and that all stations will be staffed at all times.
"The RMT and TSSA leaderships should recognise that we have given them every assurance possible, and should stop threatening disruption and return to talks."
Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said: "This strike action could not have come at a worse time with the capital only just beginning to find its feet after a difficult economic slowdown and many returning to work after the summer break.
"Londoners will still struggle in to work, aided by the additional transport laid on by the mayor, but the capital will not be as productive as normal and our reputation as the world's leading business centre will suffer.
"Each day the Underground is shut will cost the London economy £48 million."
Some central London hotels were booked up for tonight as firms offered overnight accommodation to their staff, with one hotel manager saying inquiries had been "crazy" in recent days.
Contingency plans have been put in place for dealing with the strikes, with 100 extra buses, escorted bike rides, marshalled taxi ranks, and capacity for 10,000 more journeys on the River Thames tomorrow.
Volunteers will be positioned at Tube, bus and rail stations to help people with their journeys and provide maps and other information.
The Office of Rail Regulation said it was satisfied with the contingency arrangements.
Maintenance and engineering staff went on strike at 5pm, while drivers, signallers and other staff were starting their action at 9pm.Reuse content