Two weeks of train chaos over Easter as union calls second strike for Scotland

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SCOTTISH rail passengers face two weeks of disruption over Easter after ScotRail conductors last night announced four further days of action hot on the heels of next week's four-day stoppage by signallers.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has called a walkout involving around 500 conductors at Scotland's main train operator from Monday 12 April to Wednesday 14 April. Sleeper train managers, also represented by the RMT, will strike from Tuesday 13 April, to Thursday 15 April.

The stoppages will come the week after RMT signallers and maintenance workers employed by Network Rail are due to stage the first UK-wide rail strike for 16 years over four days from next Tuesday.

Network Rail will go to the High Court today in an attempt to have the strike called off because of alleged discrepancies in the union ballot. The dispute is over changes to signallers' hours and maintenance job losses.

ScotRail revealed yesterday that next week's signallers' strike will force the cancellation of two-thirds of trains, with services largely confined to the Central Belt and restricted to 7am-7pm.

However, the firm plans to run some 95 per cent of trains the following week during the latest conductors' strikes by drafting in managers to cover for strikers. This is a similar tactic to that used during three one-day strikes last month in the dispute over drivers taking over control of doors on a new Edinburgh-Glasgow line from December. ScotRail said Scotland-London sleepers would run normally.

The RMT said the latest conductors strike came as it "steps up its action" in the dispute. General secretary Bob Crow said: "Our members' courage and determination to defend rail safety and the role of the guard on ScotRail is second to none. If the company, and (Scottish Government agency] Transport Scotland, thought this issue would quietly fade away then they didn't reckon with the grit of RMT members."

However, ScotRail accused the union of hypocrisy by announcing the strikes on the eve of new peace talks, due today.

Managing director Steve Montgomery said: "The irony is not lost on us. Only yesterday the RMT accused Network Rail of trying to sabotage negotiations by taking legal action in a separate dispute. Now the union has announced new strike dates just hours before we are due to meet."

ScotRail said if next week's signallers strikes go ahead, no trains will run south of Ayr or north of Dunblane, with services on most lines being halved in frequency.

East Coast and Virgin have said normal services are due to operate 7am-7pm on the east and west coast main lines between Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.

'Inaccuracies and deficiencies' cast doubt on RMT strike vote

NETWORK Rail claimed to have uncovered scores of "inaccuracies and deficiencies" in the ballot of signal workers, which it will now challenge in the High Court.

The company accused the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union of failing to comply with the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992 in the ballot, which delivered a 54 per cent vote for strike action.

Its case was set to be heard yesterday but Network Rail will now pursue it at the High Court this morning.

The RMT, which has called four days of action from next Tuesday, the day after the Easter weekend break, said it would defend the legal action.

Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations and customer services, said: "We believe we have uncovered scores of inaccuracies and discrepancies in the RMT's signallers' ballot that, in our view, makes it invalid."

It said the inaccuracies included: 11 signal boxes balloted by the RMT that do not exist, with most having been closed for years; 67 locations where the numbers of RMT members balloted exceeded the total number of employees working there; 26 workplaces which were completely missed out, giving RMT members at these locations no opportunity to vote; and 12 locations where there were no operations staff at all, so workers were ineligible to vote.

But Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said: "This is a scandalous attempt by Network Rail to use the full weight of the anti-union laws to deny our members their basic human right to withdraw their labour and we will fight this assault on our union to the hilt."