Rail union to consider BR peace formula: 'Flexibility' by both sides in yesterday's negotiations brings hope of settlement

A ONE-PAGE peace formula to end the rail dispute will be considered today by the industry's biggest union.

Nine hours of negotiations ended last night with Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, saying that the document would be considered thoroughly and the position 'was very delicate'.

Paul Watkinson, British Rail's personnel director, said he was looking for a 'yes or no' to management proposals to end the campaign of industrial action that has already resulted in two 24-hour national strikes.

The union has received clarification of BR's statement that it had no plan to make employees compulsorily redundant and there was no intention to extend the use of contractors.

Mr Knapp said the talks had been long and exhausting and union negotiators had tried to pull together the ingredients of a settlement that would set rail workers' minds at rest. He said it was no time for 'snap judgements'.

Other union negotiators said the situation was 'very finely balanced'.

Mr Watkinson said the union had promised to give the proposals 'very careful consideration' and he believed management had tried to meet the RMT's concerns. He thought the document should provide a basis for a settlement. He said both sides had been flexible during the negotiations. 'If they have got any sense they will accept it,' he said, and described the proposals as 'his best offer'.

The train drivers' union, Aslef, called a halt to their campaign of day- long stoppages after BR promised detailed talks on employment conditions in the run-up to privatisation.

Commuters in the South-east face fare rises of about 20 per cent above inflation over the next three years because the Government expects BR to end subsidies for Network SouthEast.

BR has calculated that on the basis of the Government's projections for the next three financial years, the current subsidy of pounds 180m will have to be phased out by 1995-96.

Only subsidy for capital investment, which under the rail privatisation scheme will be paid to the new track authority, Railtrack, will remain. Fares on Network SouthEast would have to go up by about 20 per cent to meet the shortfall unless passenger revenue rose.

Under plans published in 1989, the Government had expected the subsidy for Network SouthEast services to be ended by now, but the recession has made this impossible. Network SouthEast has lost one-fifth of its commuter traffic. Only 377,000 people travel on it daily compared with 473,000 at the peak in 1989.

Government policy is to push up fares above the rate of inflation. In January season-ticket fares went up by 7.5 per cent. The Transport Users' Consultative Committee said: 'These fares were already an exploitation of BR's monopoly position as inflation was only 3 per cent. All rises should be broadly in line with inflation and no more.'

The Commons transport committee is to publish its long-awaited report on rail privatisation next Tuesday. The unanimous report of the Tory-dominated committee is expected to be critical of the Government's plans and will make many recommendations. Its critical interim report published in January questioned the concept of separating the track authority, Railtrack, from the operation of the train services.