The threat of a crippling strike on the railways moved a step closer yesterday when two unions decided to consider ballots for industrial action.

The biggest rail union, the RMT, said talks with the infrastructure company Network Rail (NR) had broken down.

The white-collar union, TSSA, said the offer from NR was "divisive and derisory".

But NR denied the talks had broken down and said a variety of good, above-inflation deals were available.

Transport minister Kim Howells said he hoped a compromise could be reached.

The RMT's 7,000 members employed by NR include signalling, maintenance and station staff. TSSA has 4,000 members in the company.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the company had imposed a pension scheme for new entrants; its pay offer of three per cent was the lowest in the rail industry and it had refused to re-instate travel facilities to staff who joined the railway after privatisation in 1996.

TSSA, said it was angry NR was not raising the London allowance paid to all staff but was increasing the London area operations allowance, paid only to operational staff, by ten per cent.

This meant administrative and head office staff in London would lose out.

Thursday April 08, 2004