Rail drivers accept BR's offer of talks

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British Rail yesterday invited the train drivers' union to 11th- hour peace talks to head off a third crippling pay strike.

Its personnel director Paul Watkinson asked Aslef officials to fresh talks at BR's London headquarters on Monday to try to reach a breakthrough to the dispute, which has already cost up to pounds 20m in lost fares. But Mr Watkinson insisted the 3 per cent pay offer rejected by the train drivers would not be increased.

Aslef accepted the invitation. Its general secretary, Lew Adams, said: "We have always stressed that our door is open for resumed negotiations. We welcome an opportunity to resolve this issue."

Mr Watkinson said: "I hope that we will find a way for Aslef to call off its further planned strikes, so that we can get on with repairing the damage done by two days of strikes this year on top of the 23 days affected by the dispute last year between Railtrack and signal workers."

BR has emphasised since the start of the dispute that its 3 per cent offer was final, but there could be negotiations on bonus and productivity payments to try to avert four more threatened rail strikes. The next planned walkout on BR next Thursday will coincide with a strike on London Underground, which will seriously disrupt travelin the capital.

Aslef drivers on the Tube and members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union have rejected a 2.75 per cent offer and are planning a series of one-day strikes, some to coincide with the BR stoppages. The RMT is also involved in a separate dispute on London Underground over job security of engineering staff.