London gridlocked by strike

2009-06-10 14:44

London - Millions of exasperated Londoners battled with travel chaos on Wednesday, as the British capital's underground system ground to a halt at the start of a two-day Tube strike.

Commuters took to bikes, buses and boats on the Thames to beat the underground gridlock, while the streets were packed with people walking miles to work.

"It's quite irritating because I might have to take tomorrow off work if it's going to be as bad as today," said admin worker Phoebe Wood, 24, who took an hour longer than usual to get in to work.

"I want to go to work and I need to earn my rent," she added.

The Tube walkout - which started at 18:00 GMT on Tuesday - fully shut down five of the 11 subway lines in the capital, of which only one, the Northern line, was running without any disruption.

Overland mainline trains were packed to near bursting point as workers from outer districts used the only alternative to travel into central London during the morning rush hour.

In some cases trains were so full, with passengers crammed into every available space sitting and standing, that they simply passed through stations without being able to take any more passengers.

Streets were unusually busy during morning rush hour with cyclists and motorists. Extra buses, guided cycle routes and free river boats on the Thames were laid on as well.

The strike was likely to cause misery for football fans travelling to Wembley Stadium, north London to watch England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra on Wednesday night.

London Mayor Boris Johnson call the walkout - the first to hit the entire network since 2004 - "irritating, unnecessary and misery-making" and urged the RMT railworkers union to get back to negotiations which collapsed on Tuesday.

"It's absolutely essential in my view that people of goodwill get round the table in the next few hours," he told BBC radio.

But RMT general secretary Bob Crow said his union had "good reason" to be on strike over compulsory redundancies and "the application of disciplinary procedure".

Adam Tibbalds, a 38-year-old banker, said his journey to the Canary Wharf financial district east of central London via riverboat had been delayed due to the sheer number of passengers waiting to get on board.

Some voiced anger and frustration at the striking Tube workers, whose action comes as London battles like everyone else with a severe downturn.

"It does come across as a bit greedy at the moment to ask for a pay rise when everybody else is taking pay freezes. I think they have misjudged what the public opinion of that might be," said Tibbalds.