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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 06:21 GMT
Byers condemns rail strikes
Waiting passengers
Strike action will put people off train travel, says Byers
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has urged all sides in the rail dispute to go to arbitration, saying strikes had no place on today's railways.

Mr Byers was speaking at a meeting of the National Rail Conference in London as angry train passengers faced the threat of more strikes in the next week.

In this day and age, disputes over pay should not give rise to strikes

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers
The embattled minister used the speech to say the masterplan for improving the UK's ailing rail network must tackle poor performance and reliability.

Passengers deserved better service and the strikes had not helped matters, Mr Byers told the audience at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.

Strikes ahead

Guards on Arriva Trains Northern are staging a 48-hour stoppage over pay on Thursday and Friday.

Members of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) on South West Trains are also planning further strikes.

There are worries too that the London Underground could be hit by strikes in a separate pay dispute.

Stephen Byers
Stephen Byers says passengers have simple demands

Mr Byers told the conference: "Strike action is in no-one's interest...

"In this day and age, disputes over pay should not give rise to strikes. Negotiation, not strike action, must be the only way forward.

"Arbitration must be a better way forward than strike action - action which is really just a matter of strength."

Boosting performance

Saying the government was on the side of passengers, not unions or management, Mr Byers warned strikes would "turn people off the rail network".

He also outlined how the measures in the Strategic Rail Authority plan unveiled earlier this month aimed to improve the railway network nationwide.

Mr Byers said: "The public want simple things. They want reliable trains that turn up on time and arrive on time and stations that are clean and safe."

He called on all train operators to examine how they could improve performance with the help of the SRA.

The transport secretary promised he would not be distracted from getting on with the job.

"I am not going to be judged by tomorrow's headlines, I will be judged at the end of the time of the next general election."

Transport underspend

Mr Byers has continued to come under attack after it emerged his department failed to spend 350m of its capital budget last year.

The minister insisted last week he had introduced steps to reduce the underspend - currently running at 5.5% of the capital budget.

But his Conservative opposite number Theresa May cast doubt on whether he would be able to deliver the 10-year plan.

When he unveiled the blueprint, Mr Byers said a 67.5bn package of measures to upgrade the railways would "put passengers first".

But the plan relies on private investors matching public investment.

Tube dispute

As well as problems on the mainline rail network, London Underground (LU) also faces the threat of strikes.

Tube drivers are to be balloted over the next few weeks over a series of 48-hour strikes.

Aslef and the RMT union have accused London Underground of reneging on a deal agreed last year to avert industrial action, a claim the company denies.

The dispute centres on different rates of pay for drivers of passenger trains and others who drive engineering trains.

London Underground said it had been "honest and open" in its dealings with the unions, adding that threatening strikes was "unnecessarily premature and aggressive".

Thousands of passengers endured disruption earlier this month because of strikes on South West Trains services.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | England
Strike ballot on Tube
22 Jan 02 | England
Rail strike looms in North
16 Jan 02 | UK Politics
350m transport cash unspent
22 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Byers will face Labour critics
14 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Rail blueprint 'puts passengers first'
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