London Underground Workers To Strike In Rota Dispute

(BBC) – LONDON UNDERGROUND (LU) maintenance staff will hold a series of one-day strikes over new rotas, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union has said.

More than 700 staff will walk out for 24 hours from 0645 GMT on 5 and 14 February, according to the union.

Union members also plan to walk out on following Sundays until the dispute about the new rotas and the outsourcing of work and contracts is resolved.

LU said the move was “ludicrous”, because new rotas affected 30 workers.

The dispute is over the working conditions of maintenance staff on the former Metronet sections of the Tube network – all lines except for the Piccadilly, Northern and Jubilee.

The RMT accused LU of adopting “bully-boy” tactics.

Bob Crow, the union’s general secretary, said: “LU have been hell-bent on confrontation through their tearing up of the signals framework agreement and through the unilateral introduction of new working practices which mean they can make people work what hours they like, when they like.”

But Phil Hufton, LU’s chief maintenance officer, said staff and unions were “fully consulted”.

He said: “We are planning to introduce a roster covering 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure planned engineering staff are always available. That agreement already exists, but the RMT is trying to tear it up.”

Meanwhile in a separate row, the union claimed that LU was “secretly” discussing plans to save £5bn in spending which would threaten 1,200 jobs and close 144 ticket offices in stations.

Mr Crow said: “The job cuts being cooked up behind closed doors for Underground stations would leave passengers dangerously exposed in the event of an emergency and would ratchet up the dangers for the public.”

But a Transport for London (TfL) spokesman stressed that “no decisions have been made”.

“Given the current economic climate and the need to be ready for the changes that will arise when the Tube upgrades are delivered, we are looking at how we can be best organised to provide that service.”

… (BBC, 05/02/2010) – London Undergound maintenance workers begin strike

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Canvey/Kent Crossing Moves Step Further

(BBC) – PLANS TO BUILD a new River Thames crossing between Kent and Essex have moved a step closer.

Kent County Council said it planned a feasibility study with Essex County Council to build a bridge or tunnel.

The crossing could be sited between Gravesend and either Tilbury or Canvey Island.

The council said the crossing, which could cost £1 billion, could be built by a private company and paid for by a toll system.

Kent County Council leader Paul Carter said a new crossing could raise about £30m a year.

He believes the crossing should be an integral part of the council’s infrastructure planning for the next 30 years.

The results of the feasibility study are expected to be known in the next few weeks.

The two counties are already linked by two road tunnels and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge between Dartford and Thurrock, which carry the M25 across the Thames.

Petrol Prices Set For Major Rises In 2010

(Independent) – PETROL PRICES are set for a 5p-per-litre hike over the first three months of 2010, and potentially twice as much by the end of the year, a fuel retailers’ group is warning.

The possibility of a 10p-per-litre rise in 12 months is from tax and duty rises only, and does not take into account any rises in the oil price, says the RMI Independent Petrol Retailers Association.

Half of the most immediate 5p rise will be accounted for by the end of the VAT holiday on 1 January, taking the rate back up to 17.5 per cent. But there are also significant jumps in fuel duty planned for the coming year. At the start of April, fuel duty will go up in line with inflation, plus an extra 1p per litre – thanks to the re-introduction of the unpopular fuel price “escalator” in last year’s Budget. Further, the withdrawal of a duty incentive to refiners producing bio fuel will also likely be passed through to consumers as a further 1p per litre price rise.

The perilous state of the public finances raises the spectre of extra taxation. The further VAT hike, to 20 per cent, mooted in the City would add a further 2.5p per litre to petrol, and a snap post-election Budget could see duty pushed up by another 2p per litre. “With all of these duty and VAT factors considered, this will equate to a 5p per litre increase in fuel prices by the beginning of April 2010 with the possibility of up to a 10p per litre rise, solely from UK taxation, by the end of 2010,” the RMI says.

“Brace yourselves for higher fuel costs ahead,” said Brian Madderson, the chairman. “2009 has been a tough year for consumers and we are now looking at an even tougher year ahead.”

Steam Locomotive Rescues Passengers Stranded By Modern Trains

Tornado (Daily Mail) – PASSENGERS stranded when modern-day trains fell victim to the freezing weather have been rescued by the crew of a steam engine.

About 100 passengers climbed aboard the first mainline steam locomotive to be built in Britain for almost half a century at London Victoria when electric trains were delayed.

The 1940s technology used to power Tornado, a £3million Peppercorn class A1 Pacific, was able to withstand the snow and ice that brought much of the South East to a standstill on Monday night.

The locomotive’s ‘Cathedrals Express’ service was offering festive trips in the region when staff on board heard about the stranded passengers.

The travellers were offered free seats and were dropped off at stations as it chuffed through Kent, said Mark Allatt, chairman of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, the charity which built Tornado.

Mr Allatt said they were pleased to be able to help some of London’s stranded commuters ‘get home in style’ and joked that rail operators could learn lessons from them.

‘It’s amusing because this engine is predominantly made up of 1940s’ technology and we were able to keep running despite modern trains not being able to,’ he said.

‘If any of the rail operators would like to use this technology for themselves, we would be more than happy to build them an engine.’

Built partly by volunteers with donations collected over 19 years, the apple-green locomotive can reach a top speed of 100mph and is designed for long-distance express journeys.

In 1990, a band of enthusiasts came together to work on their ambition to construct a brand new Peppercorn A1 Pacific, and achieved their aim when that locomotive, No 60163 Tornado, moved under its own steam last year.

The A1 60163 Tornado is the 50th Peppercorn class A1 locomotive, all of which were designed to cope with the heaviest passenger trains on the East Coast Main Line.

The A1s were among the last steam engines to be withdrawn from service from British Rail in the late 1960s in favour of the more reliable diesel.

The locomotive was officially named Tornado by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall earlier this year and has since entered regular service on excursion trains on the Network Rail main line.

Christmas Road, Rail And Air Chaos As UK Grinds To A Halt

(Guardian) – BRITONS were last night steeling themselves for one of the most fraught Christmas getaways in years, as bad weather and snow closed major airports, paralysed roads and disrupted train services.

As the UK again found itself struggling to cope with a winter snap, transport operators warned that the backlog caused by cancellations of flights and train services could threaten the travel plans of many more people in the coming days.

Already, anyone holding a Eurostar ticket to travel to France today will not be able to go before Christmas Eve, as the company struggles to process the backlog of passengers after the three-day suspension of service caused by the wrong sort of snow in northern France.

Though the shuttle between London and the rest of Europe was set to reopen at 7.30am today, only those with tickets for the weekend will be allowed to board.

Snow caused numerous delays in air travel as Gatwick airport’s runway was shut for a number of hours and Luton suspended flights yesterday. Many flights bound for both airports were diverted to East Midlands, causing a knock-on effect as planes were left overnight at the wrong airport. Cancellations were also reported at Stansted, Aberdeen and Bristol.

British Airways cancelled all European and UK domestic flights out of Heathrow after 7pm, and services from London City and Gatwick were “significantly disrupted”.

A spokesman for easyJet said that all flights from Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and Milan would be grounded this morning. He added that the airline could not guarantee that everyone trying to travel before Christmas would be able to. “I don’t think any transport provider could be confident everyone will be able to get to where they want to go.”

The AA reported its busiest day for breakdowns in a decade yesterday. Some 16,000 breakdowns were recorded by mid-afternoon, compared with the winter average of 10,000 a day.

The AA’s president, Edmund King, advised drivers not to expect rescue services to reach them if they ignored warnings and ventured out in the worst affected areas.

“Whenever there is bad weather, authorities always warn people not to undertake non-essential journeys, and usually I would take that with a pinch of salt. But on this occasion, I really would warn people that if they choose to travel they must remember rescue vehicles may well be unable to reach them,” King said. He said Basingstoke and Reading were totally cut off for a time yesterday as major roads were gridlocked by the bad weather.

“Ring roads turned into ice rinks, and councils either didn’t seem to be gritting in time, or didn’t use enough grit and salt. In Basingstoke, the council didn’t seem to start gritting until 2:30pm, by which point it had been snowing for an hour and a half.”

The weather onslaught has come at the worst time for rail companies, which have reported a surge in domestic passenger demand this Christmas, fuelled by fear of airline disruption. The Association of Train Operating Companies said 814,000 advance tickets were sold in the first 10 days of December, 12.5% up on last year.

Network Rail is carrying out £100m of investment and 730,000 man-hours of engineering work over Christmas, markedly less than in recent years when mainline services were beset by delays after Christmas. There will be 8,000 more trains and 44% fewer replacement bus services than last year. Engineering works likely to cause most rail disruption are on the line between Bristol and Newport.

The cold weather is expected to continue for the rest of the week, with daytime temperatures rarely above 3C (37F) or 4C, and with temperatures of –5C to -7C common at night, said the Met Office. Heavy snow warnings have been issued for today in many parts of the Midlands and southern England.

Tomorrow and Thursday there will be sunny spells with showers falling as rain or snow, but not as heavy as in recent days. Christmas Day is likely to start sunny before a front moves in from the west, bringing rain or snow.

Eurostar Suspension Extended

(Reuters) – WEEKEND SUSPENSIONS TO EUROSTAR RAIL SERVICES caused by acute weather conditions will continue through Monday while trains are modified to cope with more snow expected in northern France, the operating company said.

On Friday, six trains carrying 2,500 passengers broke down, five of them in the undersea tunnel linking Britain and France, leaving passengers stuck on the trains for up to 16 hours overnight.

Eurostar said on Sunday that the results of test runs had shown a need for modifications to the snow screens and snow shields in the trains’ locomotives.

The company, operated by French rail operator SNCF, its Belgian counterpart SNCB and British government-owned LCR, said the trains failed after moving from cold air outside into the warmer tunnel, causing condensation which affected electrical systems.

“We have already started making the modifications and to ensure that these new protection measures work effectively we are conducting a series of test runs tomorrow,” a Eurostar statement said.

It said passengers affected by delays would be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and advised those whose travel is non-essential to change their booking to a later date or claim a refund.

Tunnel operator Eurotunnel said its shuttle service, which carries vehicles, and freight trains were still running.

Many of the passengers trapped on Friday night in trains in the 51-km (32-mile) tunnel, the longest undersea subway in the world, were furious after being left with no power, air conditioning, food or water.

Some complained that Eurostar gave them little or nothing in the way of information during their ordeal. Normal services from Brussels and Paris to London take about two hours.

“We are very sorry for what happened because clearly it was a very upsetting and distressing experience,” Richard Brown, chief executive of Eurostar, told BBC TV.

“I’m not pretending it went well, I’m saying it went rather better than actually quite a few people are saying.”

Nirj Deva, a member of the European Parliament for the South East of England, said Eurostar was guilty of incompetence.

“I therefore call on Richard Brown to admit that his company was not adequately prepared to deal with the situation, and to do the decent thing and resign,” he said.

Asked if he would quit, Brown said it was important to get the service running again and to find out what had gone wrong.

“That’s what I will be doing and focussing on over the next few days,” he said.

Eurostar carries about 40,000 people a day between Britain and continental Europe. The suspension of its services, coupled with problems with cross-Channel ferries and poor weather, has caused massive delays on major roads in south-eastern England.

Last year, the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994, was shut for two days after a large fire broke out on a freight train. A blaze in 1996 halted freight traffic for seven months.

… (BBC, 22/12/2009) – Eurostar resumes train services

… (Telegraph, 22/12/2009) – Eurostar services will not return to normal until ‘after Christmas’

… (BBC, 26/12/2009) – Eurotunnel accuses Eurostar of ignoring safety rules

EDF London Underground Staff To Strike

(Reuters) – THE RAIL, MARITIME & TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION (RMT) said that over 100 electricians working for London Underground contractor EDF Energy Powerlink would strike next week over a pay dispute.

“EDF RMT members have been instructed not to book on for any duty between 19.59 GMT on December 22 and 07.59 GMT on December 24 nor for any duty between 19.59 GMT on December 26 and 07.59 GMT on December 27,” the union said in a statement today.

The RMT said that members of the Unite union have also been balloted and will be taking action at the same time.

EDF supplies power to the entire London Underground network.