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Railtrack hopes for drift back to work

RAILTRACK expects signal staff who are union members to help provide more than one in four services during the 48-hour strike which begins at noon tomorrow.

While an official statement yesterday was cautious about the number of RMT members who will cross picket lines, senior managers are hoping to open new routes with their help. Supervisors who have yet to work on strike days will also be pressed into service. Last week one in four trains ran during the dispute's sixth 24-hour stoppage.

Because this week's 48-hour stoppage begins and ends at noon, the disruption will last over three days, with long haul services suffering the worst because rolling stock will be put of position.

On Wednesday most of the routes which are open are expected to operate over a single shift between 7am and 7pm, but some will manage services over a longer period. Short-haul trains are likely to be the last to be hit tomorrow lunchtime and the first to get back to normal on Thursday afternoon. RMT plans a further day-long strike next week and another 48- hour stoppage the week after.

The conciliation service Acas yesterday issued a statement confirming there had been unofficial attempts to reopen talks last week. Officials had been in contact with both sides separately: 'Regrettably there is insufficient common ground between the parties on critical aspects of the dispute to warrant joint talks,' Acas said.

In a confidential initiative last week, however, Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, and Vernon Hince, chief union negotiator, met board members of Railtrack, including David Armstrong, the personnel director. No substantive progress was made.

The stumbling block is the union's insistence on an 'upfront' payment for past productivity improvements and management's insistence on fresh efficiency measures before agreeing a pay rise.

Railtrack yesterday said its confidence about providing at least one in four services during the strike days was based on the use of existing resources rather than a hope that RMT members would cross picket lines. 'There has been a slight increase in the number of RMT members working strike days but . . .We don't want to make too much capital out of it.' But senior managers privately predict RMT members will begin drifting back to work this week and help to increase the number of services available. Some RMT members who had reluctantly abided by the campaign of weekly 24-hour strikes, had told the company they wanted to work through the industrial action this week.

Mr Knapp said yesterday there were no indications that his members were preparing to cross picket lines. 'The only way they will be able to open more routes is by forcing unqualified managers and supervisors into boxes further undermining safety levels.'

He also hit out at allegations by Railtrack that his members were guilty of intimidating managers and supervisors and their families. 'The only bullying and intimidation going on is when Railtrack dragoon managers and supervisors into breaking strikes,' he said.

Some RMT members had been warned that if they did not work normally on the strike days, they need not turn up for work on Monday and Friday. Mr Knapp said: 'This is bluff and bluster. If they tried that we would take legal action against them.'