By David Millward, Transport Editor
Published: 1:25PM GMT 09 Mar 2010
Two separate ballots are being held by the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, which could lead to the industry being crippled over Easter in a dispute over job cuts and changes to working practices at Network Rail. It could also coincide with the run up to the election.
At the same time British Airways and Unite were locked in talks aimed at avoiding a walkout by 13,500 cabin crew.-
The result of the maintenance workers' vote will be announced on Thursday. If they support a prolonged strike it would force Network Rail to impose speed restrictions and shut down branch lines for safety reasons.
It could also force the company to suspend its Easter maintenance programme, meaning that the work would have to be rescheduled for later in the year.
At the end of next week the result of a ballot by more than 5,000 signallers will be announced. While Network Rail has coped with sporadic local walkouts the company, which is responsible for maintaining the country's track infrastructure, could not cope with a national strike - the first since 1994.
"We don't want to be held to ransom," said Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations.
At the heart of the maintenance workers' dispute are plans to shed 1,500 jobs from a workforce of 18,000.
Network Rail believes that this can be done without compulsory redundancies, although it has refused to give RMT an assurance the union has demanded.
The company has also accused the union of defending what it described as outdated working practices including outdated rosters which leads to overmanning.
This has been disputed by RMT which says the maintenance job cuts could put safety at risk.
The union has been backed by more than 140 MPs who have signed a Commons motion calling on the Government to intervene.
In the case of the signallers, the dispute centres on rostering and the arrangements in place should any redundancies be required.
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