Thousands of railway workers have been balloted for strike action amid safety concerns surface over plans to cut hundreds of critical maintenance jobs.
Action by Network Rail staff would impact services such as LNER, Avanti West Coast, TransPennine Express and Cross Country Trains if a strike ballot involving 40,000 workers across the UK was to be successful with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) branding it as the biggest rail strike in modern history.
The ballot will also involve RMT members on Chiltern Railways, Greater Anglia, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway, Northern Trains, South Eastern Railway, South Western Railway, Island Line, GTR (including Gatwick Express) and West Midlands Trains.
The union claimed there remains 200 existing vacancies in maintenance delivery in Scotland which they say is affecting passenger safety in the wake of the Stonehaven rail crash of 2020 which claimed the lives of three people.
RMT claims Network Rail is planning to cut at least 2,500 safety-critical maintenance jobs as part of a £2 billion reduction in spending with other workers being subject to pay freezes and changes to their terms and conditions.
Strike action could begin in June if workers vote to walkout in the ballot running from April 26 to May 24.
Network Rail say that they would not commit to changes that made rail travel unsafe.
RMT Scottish regional organiser Gordon Martin warned that Network Rail were "butchering" the workforce in Scotland telling The Herald: "A strike would have a huge impact on the people of Scotland.
"To cut jobs while there are existing vacancies mean there are real safety fears for the travelling public.
"Cut any more, and you have already seen the effects with a infrastructure failure in the Stonehaven derailment.
"They are real concerns and we have raised them with this minister and previous ministers so they cannot say they haven't been warned."
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.
“The way for trade unions to effectively take on the cost-of-living crisis is to stand up for their members at work and take industrial action when employers are not moved by the force of reasoned argument. A national rail strike will bring the country to a standstill, but our members’ livelihoods and passenger safety are our priorities.”
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.
"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."
A Network Rail spokesman said: "Our modernisation programme aims to build a sustainable future that delivers for passengers and creates better and safer jobs for our people. We would not consider any changes that would make the railway less safe.
“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."