RAILWAY stations across the Mail area were a bleak sight from Thursday as four days of strikes by the RMT union — over pay and disciplinary issues — paralysed the network.

The normally packed Aldershot railway car park was almost empty on Friday as the occasional optimistic would-be passenger was greeted with the stark news: "We are sorry, but this station is closed. This is due to RMT strike action."

Yesterday morning AA Roadwatch spokeswoman Joanne Webb said although there had been a surge of commuters using roads rather than trains, things were not as bad as expected.

She added: "The M3 was busier than usual starting from about junction five. There was also congestion on the A3 approaching the M25, but it was not too bad.

"The Blackwater Valley Road was busy but by no means chaotic.

"Fortunately the weather has been quite good. If there had been ice or rain it would have been worse. All the routes have been busy but the traffic was moving along."

A South West Trains spokeswoman confirmed the strikes, which continued yesterday and today, had brought the network to a "virtual standstill".

Ironically, Aldershot station was fully staffed as workers there are not members of the RMT union. All they could do was pass on information that might help long-suffering passengers.

If Aldershot customers could make their way down to Farnham, there was a special bus service running from Farnham to Waterloo, with three departing in the morning, and three returning in the evening.

The buses were due to run over the four strike days but places had to be reserved by telephoning 0845 600 1340.

Fleet, Winchfield and Hook customers had to make their way to either Basingstoke or Farnborough for an hourly service calling at Woking, Surbiton, Wimbledon and Waterloo, with the last train returning home at 9.55pm.

That route was also the option for customers in the Camberley area.

As talks between SWT and the RMT broke down at the weekend, commuters braced themselves for further strikes.

There was little sign of agreement at the meetings, with attention increasingly focusing on the disciplinary issue involving RMT activist Greg Tucker, who has been demoted from the position of driver to ticket collector, and train guard Mike Skiggs.

SWT also believes its offer of a 15 per cent deal over three years is "excellent" and the real sticking point is Mr Tucker, who was demoted after a series of "safety-related incidents".

An exasperated SWT spokeswoman said the company was "bitterly disappointed" the RMT had seen fit to go ahead with the strikes and the disruption for passengers.

She said: "The union wants us to reinstate a driver who we don't believe is safe to be let back in a cab."

She added: "The driver was already on a final warning. They effectively wanted us to treat him differently because he's a union activist, but we wouldn't be blackmailed into putting passenger safety at risk."