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Rail dispute sides 'a long way apart'

DESPITE continued efforts in private to resolve the signal workers' dispute, senior management yesterday held out little prospect of avoiding a 48-hour strike next week and further action thereafter.

But John Ellis, production director of Railtrack, said the company was confident that at least one in four trains would run during the two days of action starting at noon on Tuesday - a similar proportion to the sixth 24-hour stoppage on Wednesday.

The sides were 'still a long way apart', and a Railtrack board meeting yesterday agreed that there was no basis for a settlement, Mr Ellis told a meeting of the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee.

Mr Ellis told the consumer watchdog that there was no question of meeting the claim by the RMT union for an 'upfront' payment without strings. Asked whether the disruption could continue throughout the summer, Mr Ellis conceded that the strikes 'could go on'.

A resolution of the dispute required 'significant movement' by the union after conciliatory gestures from the company, Mr Ellis said. He doubted whether signal workers' leaders had the 'will or ability' to compromise.

Mr Ellis said that services next Wednesday would operate between 7am and 7pm although there could be an extended timetable on some routes.

Long-haul routes will be disrupted before the strike begins at noon on Tuesday and will take time to get back to normal when the action ends at noon on Thursday.