Tube disruption 'every weekend till Olympics'

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The Independent Travel

London Underground services will be disrupted every weekend until just before the Olympics in 2012, a report claimed today.

Commuters have faced reductions in services for years because of weekend engineering work to upgrade Tube lines, including last weekend when the entire Circle Line was suspended and others were part-suspended.

The Evening Standard said it had obtained figures under the Freedom of Information Act showing that track, signal and construction work would close or part-suspend many Tube lines every weekend until just before the Olympics, which will start on July 27 2012.

The figures also showed that the last time LU ran a full weekend service was 29/30 December 2007.

When a full service resumes on Saturday July 21 2012, there will have been a gap of three years and eight months since Tube bosses last ran a full weekend network, said the Standard.

The figures were published following weeks of delays and disruption because of problems including signal, train and power failures.

Meanwhile, hundreds of London Underground workers are to be balloted for strikes in a row over allegations of victimisation against two union members, threatening fresh disruption on the Tube.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union said several hundred workers would vote in the next few weeks on whether to take industrial action in support of the two men.

Members of the RMT and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association have staged a series of strikes in recent weeks and are planning another 24-hour walkout from Sunday evening (November 28).

Talks aimed at averting the next strike resumed today at the conciliation service Acas.

Voting in the two ballots will end on December 7, raising the threat of industrial action in the run-up to Christmas.

A Transport for London spokesman said: "It is completely irresponsible for the RMT to call a ballot for strike action when the disciplinary and appeal process for both drivers has not been exhausted and, in the case of the Northern Line driver, has not even started.

"For the RMT leadership to threaten to disrupt Londoners in this way shows a complete disregard for Tube passengers."

A report in Lawyer Magazine said that LU has trebled its legal spend in the past five years.

In the 2006 financial year, which ran from 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2006, the transport body spent £4.3 million on legal fees, but by 2010 that figure had "ballooned" to £12.6 million, said the report.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said: "It is clear to the RMT that the vast bulk of this spend on lawyers relates to the collapse of the PPP and has helped plunge London Underground into financial chaos.

"Money that could have been spent on maintaining station staffing levels has been siphoned off in fat fees to City lawyers."

An LU spokesman said: "LU is carrying out the biggest upgrade in the Tube's history while carrying record numbers of passengers, over one billion last year. There is not enough time to do this work during the four hours each night when trains do not run and as a result much of this work must take place at weekends.

"We completely understand the frustration passengers feel when confronted by closures, but to replace track there is no option but to close the railway. Under TfL nearly 200km (125 miles) of track has been replaced, delivering smoother, more reliable journeys.

"It is also important to note that the vast majority of closures are not full line closures but are often short sections of lines where alternative Tube or other transport services are available, or are provided by TfL.

"Following the demise of the disastrous PPP, which gave the private companies the ability to demand weekend Tube closures, we are looking at ways of managing closures in a different way.

"We have already cancelled a huge number of closures planned by Tube Lines on the Northern line this year, and during the three-week closure of part of the Hammersmith branch this summer extensive Crossrail works were carried out alongside the Tube upgrade work.

"The new signalling system for the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines is being tendered on the basis of keeping weekend closures to an absolute minimum."

Labour's London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said: "Barely a day goes by without major delays and closures on the Tube and the weekend closures cause huge inconvenience for millions of Londoners. It's about time Boris Johnson got a grip of the situation and acted quickly to improve services."

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London's transport adviser, said: "The capital has the oldest Tube system in the world and we cannot pretend it can be made fit for the future without considerable works to upgrade our systems. This Mayor has secured the funding to achieve that and by collapsing the failed public private partnership has ensured that his transport chiefs have more control over the process than at any point in recent years.

"We sympathise with every Londoner affected by weekend engineering work to upgrade the Tube, but this is absolutely crucial work. Our aim is always to minimise the impact of these works on customers and businesses and alternative methods of transport are provided for every closure."