RAIL passengers are being warned of severe disruptions as the threat of national strikes loom.
Talks aimed at averting the industrial action broke down yesterday evening.
Thousands of maintenance workers, signallers and supervisors are now planning to walk out from April 6 to 9.
But last night Network Rail said would take legal action in a bid to block what would be the first national rail strike in 16 years.
Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union are unhappy about plans to slash 1,500 maintenance jobs and claim it would threaten the safety of the network.
Union boss Bob Crowe said Network Rail’s plans to cut 21% of its budget and rip up old agreements would make another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg disaster an inevitability.
But rail chiefs said they needed to shift more maintenance to night time and weekend rosters as the railways were too busy to do much work in the day time.
Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher said they “did not negotiate on safety” as it was at the heart of everything they did.
He also said The Office of Rail Regulation had confirmed it was satisfied with the proposed changes.
Huddersfield University transport expert, Professor Colin Bamford, warned the planned action would be disastrous for commuters and politicians.
He said: “As far as West Yorkshire is concerned it would be absolute misery because there’s been an increase of people travelling to work by train.
“With the congested roads in our region it’s going to mean four days of hell.
“The only saving grace is it’s the Easter holidays so the children will be off school.”
Prof Bamford said the unions were rightly concerned but said he had a “sneaky feeling” a resolution would be agreed.
He added: “Unlike the BA strike where a few thousand were affected, we’re talking about millions on this one.
“That’s why Gordon Brown and the transport secretary have been trying to resolve this row – it would have far wider detrimental effects politically.
“Understandably the workers are worried as there’s more traffic but on the surface of it the level of maintenance is going down.
“The RMT want to see a re-nationalisation of the railways. In their opinion safety is being compromised.
“But I would say there haven’t been many serious accidents in recent years due to maintenance problems.
“The last one was the Virgin Trains crash in the Lake District (in 2007).”
Signal staff are due to strike for four hours in the morning and evening rush hours while other workers will walk out for four days from April 6.
Some rail firms have already begun warning of “significantly reduced” services and Network Rail said only one in five trains would run during the strike if an agreement was not made.
Last week Network Rail said less than a quarter of its signallers had voted to strike.
The organisation has 6,000 signallers of which 4,556 were balloted. 1,705 of those said yes to strike (37% of those balloted).
Robin Gisby, Network Rail’s director of operations and customer services, said the row was about rosters and claimed the average signaller earned £48,113.98, with the best paid earning £65,616.48.
Mr Gisby said they already had 1,100 volunteers for the 1,300 maintenance job cuts and only 34% of the 18,000 strong workforce had voted to strike.