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U.K. Tube Workers Seek Security Improvements


Workers on London's transportation system are seeking safer working conditions following the July 7th bombings and last week's attempted bombings on the city subway and bus lines. They're threatening to go on strike if negotiations with city transportation officials fail to satisfy their demands for increased security. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from London.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Two weeks after four bombing attacks left 56 people dead, things underground remain tense.

(Soundbite of activity in subway terminal)

Unidentified Woman: Ladies and gentlemen ...(unintelligible).

KUHN: Stations are plastered with pictures of the suspected bombers in last week's failed attacks and notices of service disruptions. Passengers are constantly reminded not to leave their bags unattended. After last week's attempted attacks, a handful of train drivers refused to go to work, complaining that they were kept on the job while other parts of the network had been shut down. The Piccadilly line, hit on July 7th, remains partially closed.

Transport for London, the city government branch in charge of the mass transit system, declined repeated requests for interviews with train drivers or spokesmen. Underground employees' contracts bar them from speaking to the media. If they do, they can lose their jobs. But at a station on the outskirts of London, one driver talked about his work as he stood on the platform between shifts. He spoke on the condition that his name would not be used. He said that he was terrified by the news of the first bombings and, like his colleagues, was afraid to return to work.

Unidentified Man: A lot of us drivers feel worried. We feel worried about the situation, as in--there was times like, you know, when the--everything occurred, the drivers were the last to know.

KUHN: He added that he should have been informed about last week's attempted bombings over his train's radio, but that's not what happened.

Unidentified Man: I found out from my girlfriend. She rang me on my phone, lucky enough I was in an open section, and told me what was going on. It wasn't through the control.

KUHN: He said that there were some spots in The Underground where the radio on his train didn't work. Bob Crow is secretary-general of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, or RMT, the largest union representing London Underground workers.

Mr. BOB CROW (Secretary-General, Rail, Maritime and Transport): Workers have got the right to ask and get a safe working place and a safe working environment. And we don't believe that London Underground and the mayor is doing that adequately, and that's the reason why we're trying to convince London Underground that we need to put more resources into making it safe. But if they don't, we're going to have to take action to defend our members and the traveling public.

KUHN: The RMT wants emergency breathing devices and reinforced cabin doors for drivers. It wants a second staff member on each train to deal with emergencies. It wants more emergency training and a review of procedures for dealing with suspicious packages. It also opposes government proposals to cut overall staffing levels in Underground stations.

Transportation officials have commented that they're willing to work with the union. But London's mayor and other officials have pointed out that they can't install airport-style security on The Underground. Roger Evans is chairman of the London Assembly's Transport Committee.

Mr. ROGER EVANS (Chairman, Transport Committee): In many of our Tube stations in London, we couldn't have room to fit the sort of equipment in that they have at airports. They're quite cramped spaces. And the number of people that we handle during rush hour would make it impossible, if you bear in mind there are many stations in central London which carry more people during the rush hour passing through them than Heathrow Airport does all day.

KUHN: The RMT appears to have made the first organized demand on the government for more protection from terrorist threats. The RMT's Bob Crow said that if today's talks with transportation officials fail to get results, he could ballot his 11,000 members in the London Underground, and they could go on strike by the beginning of September.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.