Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Millions hit by London Tube strike (Times Online)

Sophie Tedmanson

London commuters faced chaos this morning as a Tube strike by maintenance workers over pensions and jobs left millions forced to find alternative ways to get to work. But there was a glimmer of hope for passengers after the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, whose members began a 72-hour strike yesterday evening, announced that talks to resolve the dispute would be held later today. Only two of the 12 Tube lines – which service the main parts of central London – were operating in full, causing travel chaos for most of the three million people who use the underground network. During the morning peak hour, massive queues formed outside bus stops, including at Victoria Station where the mood among commuters turned from frustration to anger at having to wait for packed buses. Police handed out street maps and encouraged people to begin walking or face lengthy delays for a bus.

“I’ve no idea why they’re striking or what this is all about - all I know is that they’re making life a misery for millions of people,” said Caroline Dyer, 33, an accounting assistant from Kent.

Transport for London (TfL), which has put on extra staff to cope with the demand and help people find alternative routes to work, said the disruption was “severe and unacceptable”.

“We share Londoners’ view that this disruption is intolerable, as it serves no purpose,” a TfL spokesman said.

About 2,300 workers from the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ union (RMT) began 72 hours of industrial action at 6pm on Monday over fears of job losses and pension cuts by the collapsed tube maintenance firm Metronet. Metronet, a privately-owned group that maintains most of the London Underground train network, went into administration in July after running out of funds. The union said it will meet Metronet, Transport for London and the company’s administrator later today to try to resolve the dispute. The RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, said: “As a result of discussions last night with London Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy, talks will now take place.

“This is a positive development and we hope that Metronet and its administrator will now take our members’ legitimate concerns seriously.”

Trains ground to a halt on the following lines: Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, East London, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Victoria and Waterloo & City. The central part of the Piccadilly line was also suspended. There is a good service on the Northern and Jubilee lines, which are maintained by a different company. Passengers have been encouraged to use the Docklands Light Railway, which links Canary Wharf and east London with the City, National Rail services or buses. Advertising executive Chris Boys, who was waiting for a bus at Victoria station this morning, has only been working in London for a year but he already realised travel chaos was part of life in the capital.

“This is just what you go through, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s a pain in the a***, but I’m told it happens every year and you get used to it.”

“Even if I walk I’m going to be late, but I think my boss will be understanding. Everyone’s bosses should give them a bit of leeway this week.”

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