The Rail Dispute: Safety claims over train services: Track operator concedes RMT workers obeyed one-day strike call, but still manages to run 1,000 trains

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The Independent Online
BRITISH RAIL yesterday came under fire for allegedly breaching safety standards as it succeeded in operating 1 out of every 15 trains during yesterday's strike with the help of supervisory staff.

As the RMT transport union called its second 24-hour stoppage, about 1,000 services out of 15,000 ran - approximately twice the number which operated during last Wednesday's action.

Management is hoping that operations will improve further if strikes, scheduled for next Wednesday and a week later, go ahead.

Railtrack, the state-owned company which runs the industry's infrastructure, believes that some of the 4,600 RMT members in signal boxes will be tempted to break future strikes when they read letters detailing the 'restructuring' package on offer. Management argues that 75 per cent of signalling staff will receive more money as a result of productivity proposals.

However, union leaders expressed considerable scepticism about the degree of control being exercised by management as ministers declared their intention to keep a lid on signal workers' pay.

Railtrack yesterday conceded that virtually all RMT members obeyed the strike call. The company was able to improve it service by marshalling existing resources more efficiently yesterday, a spokesman said.

The union, however, wrote to the Railway Inspectorate urging an inquiry into claims that some managers who took the place of strikers were not properly qualified. RMT officials claimed five supervisors in Scotland were sent home for refusing to work with colleagues they considered not properly qualified to work the signalling panels.

But Railtrack said the union claims of safety risks were 'preposterous' and said the five were sent home for refusing to carry out their normal duties.

The company said the Health and Safety Executive was content with the competence checks being applied to staff working yesterday.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, acknowledged that those who took over the boxes were probably qualified to use the equipment, but questioned whether some of them were familiar with local conditions.

(Photograph omitted)