Union chiefs are threatening to bring the country to a “standstill” with what they claim could be the biggest rail strike in modern history.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is due to ballot more than 40,000 staff on potential industrial action in a row over pay and jobs.
If members back the move, passengers could be impacted by stoppages as early as June.
The RMT claims that Network Rail is planning to cut at least 2,500 “safety-critical” maintenance jobs as part of a £2billion reduction in spending.
Workers at train operators have also been subject to pay freezes and changes to their terms and conditions, it said.
The RMT claims that Network Rail is planning to cut at least 2,500 'safety-critical' maintenance jobs
The ballot opens on April 26 and closes on May 24.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Railway workers have had to contend with pay freezes, the prospect of losing their jobs and repeated attacks on their terms and conditions.
“Removing 2,500 safety-critical jobs from Network Rail will spell disaster for the public, make accidents more likely and will increase the possibility of trains flying off the tracks.
“Train operating companies have praised our members for being key workers during the pandemic but have refused to keep staff pay in line with inflation and soaring living costs.
“As a result, thousands of railway workers have seen their living standards plummet and have run out of patience.”
Passengers could face stoppages as early as June
Mr Lynch added: “A national rail strike will bring the country to a standstill, but our members’ livelihoods and passenger safety are our priorities.”
The ballot will be among RMT members on Network Rail and more than a dozen train operating companies, including LNER, Great Western Railway, and Northern Trains.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s regional director, said: “Our railway has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and even as passenger numbers start to recover, we know travel habits and passenger demand have changed and the industry has to change too.
“We cannot keep relying on Government handouts, and so we must work together with train operators and our trades unions to save millions of pounds and deliver a more efficient railway.
“Our modernisation programme aims to build a sustainable future that delivers for passengers and creates better and safer jobs for our people.
“We are disappointed that the RMT has taken this decision and urge them again to work with us, not against us, as we build an affordable railway fit for the future.”