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Britain braces for biggest rail strike in 30 years as talks break down

Britain is bracing for its largest rail strike in 30 years beginning Tuesday after talks broke down between union negotiators and Network Rail. File Photo by Hannah McKay/EPA-EFE

June 20 (UPI) — Talks to avert Britain’s largest rail strike in 30 years broke down Monday, paving the way for massive disruptions for train passengers in England, Scotland and Wales.

Thousands of staff at Network Rail and 13 rail operators are due to walk out Tuesday following the rejection of management’s latest proposals, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union announced.

The union, which represents workers ranging from catering staff to signalers, said the company’s pay proposals “are massively under the relevant rates of inflation” and are coming on top of recent pay freezes triggered by the “slashing” of nearly $5 billion in Network Rail funding by the Conservative Party-led government.

Network Rail published a new train schedule for this week showing limited routes and times and warning all travelers to expect “severe disruption and to plan ahead.”

The union is calling for pay raises of at least 7%, while rail operators offered 2% with a 1% bump if workers accepted proposed job cuts and work practice changes.

Negotiations broke down late Monday with both sides deadlocked, RMT General Secretary Mike Lynch told the BBC.

He accused the government of interfering with Network Rail to prevent a deal.

“What we’ve come to understand is the dead hand of this Tory government is all over this dispute,” Lynch said. “Until they allow these employers to negotiate freely I can’t see we’re going to get a resolution.”

Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps denied the government has intervened in the dispute and placed the blame for the work stoppage on the unions.

The strike, he told the House of Commons Monday, is “created by the unions, organized by the unions, is the full responsibility of the unions,” adding the government is doing it’s “utmost to get the unions and the rail industry agree a way forward.”

Shapps said only 20% of rail services are expected to run during the strikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with most of the focus on main population areas and critical freight routes.

Network Rail urged all travelers to use rail “only if necessary” as the last trains between many major cities departed late Monday just hours before 40,000 rail workers are set to walk out Tuesday. A strike is also planned at the London Underground.

Transportation officials warned drivers to expect a surge in traffic as more people hit the roads during the strike.

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