Last-gasp talks held to avert London Tube strike

LONDON - Union leaders and London transport chiefs were holding talks on Monday in a final attempt to avert a three-day strike by underground train staff that would spell travel misery for millions of commuters for the second week runnning.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union have already staged a 48-hour stoppage in the capital in a dispute over ticket office closures and job cuts.

That strike caused widespread transport disruption last week for people trying to get to and from work, costing firms a fortune in lost working hours and productivity.

Talks were being held between the RMT and Transport for London (TfL), which runs the city's transport network, at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) just hours before the 72-hour strike was due to start on Monday evening. "In view of the impending three-day strike action by RMT members, Acas has invited the Chief Operating Officer of London Underground and the acting General Secretary of RMT to attend a meeting at our offices," an Acas spokesman said in a statement.

The dispute centres on TfL's restructuring plans, which it says could save 50 million pounds ($84 million) a year, but the RMT says will lead to the closure of 250 ticket offices and the loss of 950 jobs.

TfL says there will be no compulsory redundancies, and argues that fewer than 3 per cent of journeys on the 151-year-old Tube network now involve the use of ticket offices as most passengers have electronic ticket cards.

However, the RMT says safety and service quality will suffer. Discussions broke down on Friday with each side accusing the other of intransigence.

Some 3 million commuters use London's "Tube" network daily, and, despite services running on most lines and extra bus services during last week's walkout, commuters posted pictures on the Internet of overcrowded streets and platforms that showed them cramming onto packed buses and trains.

The Federation of Small Businesses estimated that a two-day strike by Tube workers in February cost small businesses, which make up about 99 per cent of London companies, about 600 million pounds in lost working hours, business and productivity.