Rail chiefs are “not wildly optimistic” of a breakthrough to avoid strikes on Thursday as they criticised a “sense of entitlement” among trade union leaders.
Talks restarted on Wednesday over an industrial dispute that led to the biggest shutdown of Britain’s train network in a generation this week.
But Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said he was not hopeful that a deal could be struck before the next day of industrial action on Thursday.
He told The Telegraph: “Are we wildly optimistic? No. Are we fighting to find a way through this? Absolutely.”
Industry sources have claimed that union leaders are clinging onto archaic working practices that mean tasks such as “changing a plug socket” would take a team of nine workers.
Among the other working practices union chiefs are determined to defend are rail workers being entitled to “walking time allowance” of 12 minutes for a one minute walk and engineers being unable to stray 500 yards from their dedicated patch, sources said.
Mr Haines said such working practices were “a reflection of just how introspective parts of Britain’s railways are”.
He added: “And that’s what is so catastrophic about these strikes.
“A sense of entitlement that doesn't want to address the fact that the railways are facing a £2bn deficit.
“If we maintain that, that signs the death knell to our industry. We will become increasingly irrelevant. That's why we have to say: ‘There is a way forward on this where we modernise and we create safer, but better value, jobs.’”
National rail strikes by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) due to go ahead on Thursday and Saturday are likely to cause less disruption compared with Tuesday – when a walkout was coupled with industrial action on the London Underground.
Only one in five trains are scheduled to run on strike days and operate between the hours of 7.30am and 6.30pm. Unlike Tuesday, the Tube will not be hit by strike action, however.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, hailed the turnout at picket lines during Tuesday's industrial action as “fantastic”.
He said: “Our members will continue the campaign and have shown outstanding unity in the pursuit of a settlement to this dispute.
“RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big business profits and Government policy.
“Now is the time to stand up and fight for every single railway worker in this dispute that we will win.”