Crucial talks aimed at averting a crippling strike by thousands of rail workers after Easter will be held today, with the Government hoping for a breakthrough in a row over jobs.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union has drawn up a proposed framework for resolving disputes over plans by Network Rail (NR) to axe 1,500 maintenance jobs and change working practices.

The talks between the RMT, Transport Salaried Staffs Association and NR will be held under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas.

The unions have warned that the rail network will “effectively be shut down” by the planned strike action between April 6-9.

Network Rail said it would continue to try to find a resolution to the dispute, although it has not ruled out legal action to try to prevent the strike, which would be the first national walkout since a signal workers’ dispute in 1994.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis have both urged the two sides to try to resolve the row.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “We go into the talks in a positive frame of mind and committed to reaching an agreement which protects safety-critical jobs, safe working practices and which delivers a secure future for both our members and the travelling public the length and breadth of the UK rail network.

“RMT welcomes the intervention of the Prime Minister and it is clear that both Gordon Brown and Lord Adonis can play an important role in helping to resolve these disputes.

“RMT members remain 100% rock solid behind the union and the strike action announced for next weeks as we head into talks today and we are determined to secure a settlement which addresses all of the issues at the heart of our disputes with Network Rail.”

The start of the planned strike by maintenance workers, signallers and supervisors on April 6 coincides with the day Gordon Brown is widely expected to announce that the general election is to be on May 6. Mr Brown said that the industrial action would be “unhelpful” and benefit neither side.