Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 12:32 UK

Q&A: Rail signal workers strike

Thousands of rail passengers have been forced to alter their travel arrangements as Scotland's rail signal workers stage a 24-hour walkout.

It is the first of two planned days of industrial action by members of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union which could impact on journeys for the rest of the week.

So what is the row all about and what kind of impact will it have?

Who is striking?

The RMT said 450 of its members will be taking in part in the action, which effectively amounts to all of Scotland's signal workers. Network Rail said management staff and supervisors, who are not in the union, will be providing contingency support and manning a number of signal boxes.

Which services will be affected?

Rail operator First ScotRail said services would be severely disrupted but it would try to provide as many trains as possible during the two planned strikes.

It is thought that 40% of the 2,100 services the operator runs will not be running, with the network expected to grind to a halt at 1900 BST.

On routes where services were being maintained, there will be fewer services, and some may operate shorter trains than usual with limited space.

There were contingency plans to use buses to replace trains on some routes, such as Inverness to Aberdeen.

First ScotRail said customers should check its website for timetable changes.

Train services on the west coast mainline will stop south of the border.

A knock-on affect on the roads was expected, with motorists already being warned of delays due to bad weather and road works on the M8 and the M74.

What is the strike about?

It depends which side you speak to. For the RMT roster changes and transfers are the main issues.

Speaking to BBC Scotland Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said last minute changes to rotas were "totally unacceptable in 2008."

He argued that members were unable to make family and social arrangements outside work.

Conflict also surrounds the promotion and transfer of staff.

The RMT said this should be based on seniority and length of service if the employees are equally able and qualified. Network Rail have argued appointments should be based purely on ability.

But Network Rail said these areas had already been ironed out during talks and compulsory safety assessments were the sticking point.

David Simpson, route director at Network Rail, said the assessments were "critical" and there would be no move towards a voluntary arrangement.

He said RMT members had not been balloted on safety assessments and he did not understand why union leaders had made it an issue.

The RMT said there was no question of staff not wanting to take part in the assessments but they should be "asked first."

A spokesman for Network Rail added that RMT leaders appeared to have their own agenda and had misled members.

Is there an end in sight?

Two days of strike action were planned from noon on Tuesday 7 October until noon on Wednesday, and from noon on Thursday 9 October until noon on Friday.

But talks to resolve the dispute were due to take place at the conciliation service ACAS on Wednesday.

The Scottish government says it expects the RMT union and Network Rail will attend.

The First Minister Alex Salmond said it must be "good sign" that both sides were willing to resume discussions.


SEE ALSO
Scotland hit by rail staff strike
07 Oct 08 |  Scotland
Rail strike on after talks fail
06 Oct 08 |  Scotland
Railway workers vote for strikes
11 Sep 08 |  England

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