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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 17:28 GMT
Rail network set for extra billions
Rail strikes are causing commuters major disruption
Ministers are set to promise billions of pounds of extra cash to put the UK's troubled rail network back on track.

The 10-year plan for the rail network is expected to be boosted by another 4.5bn of taxpayers' money on Monday when the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) unveils how it will deliver promised improvements.

There is a golden opportunity now to try to move to a new era industrial relations

Mick Rix, Aslef

The extra cash would take the treasury's contribution to the 60bn 10-year plan to around 34bn - with the remaining funding due to come from the private sector.

The SRA has already earmarked 430m for quick, local improvements, with passengers and rail staff able to nominate schemes such as rush hour services or new stations.

Mediation difficulties

With passengers facing more possible disruption from strikes, Downing Street continues to say it will not intervene in talks between the rail unions and train companies.

And union calls for a return to national pay bargaining for rail workers to prevent further strikes have met with a cool reception.

Stephen Byers
Byers has promised improvements by the next election
The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) says the idea, proposed by train drivers' union Aslef, would make problems worse by replacing local strikes with nationwide industrial action.

ATOC was one of the bodies mooted as a potential mediator for the process and the notion has met a non-committal response too from the SRA.

Aslef general secretary Mick Rix said nationwide pay bargaining could prevent a repeat of the current rail industry disputes.

As well as proposing the idea to Transport Minister John Spellar, Mr Rix has written to the Strategic Rail Authority and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) suggesting they could mediate in the new process.

'Nationwide threat'

But ATOC director-general George Muir said the proposal would mean jumping "out of the frying pan and into the fire".

"Instead of local strikes, the threat would be national strikes - as we saw in the past," said Mr Muir, who argued pay differentials were a fact of life.

The idea was, however, backed by TUC general secretary John Monks and other union leaders.

Mr Monks argued such a scheme would stop the "leap frogging" kind of pressures that have seen train drivers treated generously while other rail staff were neglected.

Aslef's latest proposal follows the breakdown of talks between ScotRail, Aslef and the RMT union aimed at resolving the pay dispute which has led to the cancellation of a quarter of the company's trains.

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, who is also plagued by threats of industrial action by Arriva Trains Northern and further strikes by South West Trains, has said he is confident of improving rail services before the next general election.

He said passengers had a right to expect safe, clean and comfortable trains that ran on time.

Competing companies

In the meantime UK passengers face disruption because of the wide range of pay disputes at different operating companies.

ScotRail drivers are refusing to do overtime or work on rest days unless their pay is increased and conditions improved.

Negotiations between the RMT and Arriva Trains Northern are under way in a bid to reduce the pay gap between guards and drivers.

And there appears to be little hope in averting further strikes later this month on South West Trains over pay.

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"There's now a risk of national action"
General Secretary of ASLEF Mick Rix
"National bargaining will sort out the problems
TUC general secretary John Monks
"There are wide variations in what same grade workers get"
See also:

11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
A return to national pay bargaining?
11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Union's rail solution rebuffed
10 Jan 02 | Scotland
Rail talks end without agreement
10 Jan 02 | Business
Rail's financial fudge
09 Jan 02 | UK
Is UK transport the worst?
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