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London subway strike is over

Officials, however, say restoring service on all lines will take time.

September 05, 2007|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — A crippling strike on London's subway system was suspended late Tuesday, but officials said it would take time to restore service after the walkout, which turned the system into a maelstrom of long lines and hot, overcrowded cars.

A little more than 17 hours after the job action by 2,300 maintenance workers shut down three-fourths of London Underground lines, union leaders announced that they would return to work. But transportation managers said commuting delays would be inevitable today.

"We will now work to provide the best possible Tube service on Wednesday. However, as the strike was suspended so late this evening, it will take time for us to restore a full service on all Underground lines," Transport for London, the agency that runs the city's subways and buses, said in a statement.

The Tube, Europe's largest subway system, normally carries 3.5 million riders a day. Passengers were left scrambling for buses and waiting in long lines during rush hours Tuesday, when only three of the 12 lines were running, and one of the three had limited service.

"This is a wholly unjustifiable strike," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said earlier in the day. "It's causing an enormous amount of trouble to the people of London and disruption to the business of this city. They should get back to work as quickly as possible."

Transportation managers deployed staff members at closed Tube entrances to advise frustrated passengers on alternatives. Fearing a traffic congestion mess on top of the subway quagmire, the agency urged travelers who were making short trips to walk or bicycle.

Adding insult to injury, city officials said the $16 congestion charge for driving into central London was not waived.

"We've added as many buses as we can. But you obviously can't throw a lot of buses onto the road or you'd be contributing to congestion, which is counterproductive," an agency spokesman said, speaking on the standard condition of anonymity.

"Tube Walkout Brings London to its Knees," the Evening Standard proclaimed.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, known as the RMT, represents employees who were left dangling when delays and massive cost overruns raised the specter of bankruptcy for the public-private partnership that has been carrying out a $34-billion renovation of the Underground.

RMT members said they were seeking assurances that they would not face job loss, forcible transfers or pension cuts.

City officials thought they had provided such assurances in a letter, but the union said before the apparent settlement that the letter wasn't strong enough. It was unclear what additional assurances the city agency offered.

"The strike action was necessary because we were getting nowhere with anything else. Bear in mind, we actually told the company we were balancing for strike actions five weeks ago, and there was no response," the union's spokesman, who also would not allow his name to be used, said in an interview.

"So it's remarkable what happens when you actually go on strike," he said.

Mayor Ken Livingstone did not seek to disguise his impatience.

"This strike is one of the most purposeless ever called," he declared Monday. "All of the issues raised have been settled. . . . But the RMT insists on proceeding with an action which will severely disrupt the lives of millions of Londoners and lose RMT members hundreds of pounds to no purpose."

Some analysts predicted the strike will cost the city as much as $100 million.

The strike was the second major job action in a week in Britain. On Aug. 28, prison officers staged a one-day walkout that forced the nation's prisons into lockdown, disrupting court hearings and canceling prison visitations. The strike ended after a court injunction and an agreement for more pay talks.


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