Britons face spreading rail chaos

Jan. 8, 2002 at 4:20 PM
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LONDON, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Britons faced spreading transportation chaos Tuesday as rail workers announced plans for more strikes.

The second day of a 48-hour work stoppage hit commuter train services into London, with only 10 percent of the trains making it to their destinations, amid signs of mounting public anger over the crisis. Disruption of train services also affected Scotland.

As tabloid newspapers played up the passengers' plight, the frustrated commuters' quest for alternative routes or means of transport caused further disruptions and delays on the roads. Tempers flared as motorists struggled with traffic jams.

Public misery over the problems would increase, industry sources said. Rail workers in northern England warned they would take strike action over a pay dispute, while union officials in southeastern England, including London, threatened indefinite industrial action.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union members working for Arriva Trains Northern in northern England voted overwhelmingly for industrial action. They announced plans for two 48-hour strikes on Jan. 24 and 25 and again on Feb. 5 and 6.

More immediately, widespread disruption of services stranded tens of thousands of people in London and surrounding areas, and forced thousands of others to stay at home. Train operators predicted further disruptions Wednesday as many trains that stopped in wrong locations tried to catch up with the schedule.

There were renewed signs that the train crisis could spawn a popular campaign and potentially target the government. Reports on the public mood by the ruling Labor Party's leading pollster, Philip Gould, suggested that 2002 could be a year of "train rebellions" by angry and frustrated rail commuters.

Gould found the public had given the government's transport performance a rating of minus 49 percent, and news media suggested campaigners might try and organize a one-day nationwide boycott of trains.

One of the campaigners, David Da Costa, told news media he was seeking to unite passenger pressure groups around Britain to stage such a boycott.

"It is the British disease -- to complain and do nothing," Da Costa told the British Broadcasting Corp. "But until now there has not been a vehicle to co-ordinate the ill-feeling of passengers."

He said he paid nearly $10,000 a year to travel by rail to his London job from his West Country home but delays often stretched his normal 90-minute train journey to up to four hours.

He said the idea was not to bring Britain to a standstill but "to embarrass the government, to show them we are fed up and we are an important part of the electorate."

He said, "We want to see a cohesive long-term strategy to improve the national rail infrastructure. If we don't see evidence of this after the first day boycott, then we will call for another in 60 days, and so on."

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