Minister to meet Railtrack chairman

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The Independent Online
JOHN MacGREGOR, Secretary of State for Transport, will meet the most senior manager involved in the rail dispute today, but says he is 'unlikely' to discuss the campaign of industrial action which paralysed the network for the fourth time yesterday.

Mr MacGregor said there were other matters on the agenda and that today's session with Robert Horton, chairman of Railtrack, was a part of a series of 'routine and regular' meetings.

He said there was no need to remind Mr Horton of public-sector pay levels as this had already been done and government views on the subject were well-known.

However, it is thought highly improbable that reference will not be made to the series of 24-hour stoppages by 4,600 signal workers. A spokesman for the RMT transport union said: 'We would be amazed if the dispute was not discussed. Mr MacGregor's comments are a crude attempt to distance ministers from a situation that reflects increasingly badly on a government which has interfered to prevent a settlement.'

Meanwhile, amid great secrecy, and for the first time since the conflict began a month ago, Mr Horton met Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, in an attempt to smooth the path to a peace formula. Yesterday's meeting came about after pressure on Tuesday from Greville Janner MP, who entreated both men at a hearing of the Commons employment committee to 'have a chat'.

They met for 90 minutes at a London hotel but there was no substantive progress and no date was fixed for fresh negotiations.

A Railtrack spokesman said: 'They discussed the state of play and reflected on the issues involved.' A national official at the RMT said: 'Nothing of consequence came out of it. We put our problems to the chairman and he put his problems to us. They were meeting their obligations to the employment committee.'

British Rail said it managed to operate about 19 per cent of services yesterday - part of a continuing improvement since the dispute started. The campaign of disruption involves 24-hour stoppages on the next two Wednesdays and a threat of 48-hour action every week thereafter.

The union is seeking compensation for improvements in efficiency over the last six years, but Railtrack is offering a package including an increase of 3 per cent, for fresh productivity measures.

Dear Jimmy Knapp, page 21

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