UNION chiefs say a rail strike is increasingly likely, after accusing management of wrecking peace talks aimed at resolving a long-running dispute.

Officials of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union will meet with Northern Rail bosses this week in an effort to stave off industrial action that could affect train services throughout the region.

A week of strike action last month was suspended by the union following assurances from management that it would enter into negotiations aimed at reaching a solution.

However, the union says that once it suspended the action, management upped the ante and demanded the action be cancelled which would have invalidated the original ballot over strike action.

The RMT has accused management of "throwing down a gauntlet laced with hostility and aggression" and said it is considering an escalation of industrial action.

Northern Rail said it is confident the matter can be easily resolved, but it is reluctant to meet with the RMT while the threat of strike action hangs over discussions.

The dispute centres around maintenance drivers at Northern Rail depots in Newcastle and Leeds facing a re-grading exercise, which the RMT says fails to recognise members’ complex and demanding role.

RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “Staff across Northern Rail are aware of the aggressive and hostile attitude taken by the company and the union is looking closely at its strategy and specifically means of escalating the action.

“RMT firmly believes that the company has been disingenuous in their approach to this re-grading process by failing to recognise the multi-skills and the hard work that this group of maintenance depot drivers bring to the Northern Rail operation.

“Their most recent actions in scuppering the talks have dragged us close to the edge of a complete and fundamental breakdown in industrial relations.

“RMT has submitted evidence which makes it clear that the maintenance drivers’ job is complex and demanding.

“The ball is now firmly in Northern Rail’s court and it is down to them to take the appropriate action to get the talks process back on track.”

Northern Rail HR director Adrian Thompson said: “Northern is asking the RMT to cancel the industrial action so that meetings can take place which will lead to a satisfactory outcome for both parties.”