The Rail Dispute: Railtrack chief gives 'no surrender' message: Horton in uncompromising mood as union clashes with BR over the number of trains running

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ROBERT HORTON, chairman of Railtrack, delivered a 'no surrender' message to striking signal workers yesterday - as news broke of two rail accidents.

Union leaders yesterday reported one of the most dangerous strike-day incidents since the stoppages began. A train near Long Eaton, Derbyshire, went through a green light, only for its driver to see two cars driving over a crossing in front of him.

Railtrack confirmed the union's account, but said the incident had nothing to do with the industrial action or the signal box. It said that contractors involved in maintenance work would be asked to conduct an investigation.

In the second incident, more than 100 passengers were led to safety when a commuter train was derailed near Bromley in Kent, but Railtrack again said there was no evidence to suggest that the accident was anything to do with the signalmen's dispute.

'It's pure coincidence that it occurred during a rail strike,' said a spokeswoman for Railtrack.

As Mr Horton made clear his uncompromising mood on the 16th day of industrial action, British Rail and the RMT transport union clashed over the number of trains operating.

BR claimed more than half of the normal services were operating for the first time on a strike day, but in a TUC rally in support of the dispute, Jimmy Knapp, the RMT leader, said the proportion was more like one-third.

A document submitted to the Health and Safety Executive proved that BR's figures were inflated, Mr Knapp said. It said the company normally runs 23,689 trains a day. BR yesterday claimed that 7,500 services were running.

Railtrack said the figures quoted by the union were more than 30 years old. But the RMT said they were in a document submitted by Railtrack, which had only been established on 1 April.

With the help, for the first time, from volunteers from BR, Railtrack said that 57 per cent of the network was open - the largest proportion yet.

In Blackpool strikers gave their own 'no surrender' message in a 1,000-strong march of conference delegates from the tower to the Grand Theatre where a speech by Mr Knapp, also TUC president, received an emotional reception.

Both Mr Horton and Mr Knapp said they were interested in a negotiated settlement, but the RMT is still insisting on 'upfront' payment for past productivity improvements and Railtrack is demanding fresh concessions.

Mr Knapp told his audience that the strike was still '100 per cent' solid.

Earlier, the Railtrack chairman said he wanted an immediate end to the stoppages. 'Signalmen should understand we are very serious when we say we want a negotiated settlment, but we are not going to driven into surrendering.'

At the TUC conference delegates passed a unanimous motion opposing the break-up and privatisation of the railway industry.

(Photograph omitted)