RAIL passengers in Scotland face a further round of pre-Christmas and New Year disruption in a continuing impasse over pay that will see four weeks of industrial action.

More than 40,000 railway staff are expected to walk out later this month in the biggest dispute on the network in 33 years.

The dispute by Network Rail staff who maintain the infrastructure, such as tracks and signalling across they UK, will hit ScotRail services, cross border services and networks around the UK.

The union remains unhappy about the future of jobs, as well as pay and conditions.

The RMT union have initiated major disruption to the country's railway network in December and January in an ongoing UK-wide dispute with Network Rail over pay and plans to axe hundreds of critical maintenance jobs.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the strikes would send "a clear message that we want a good deal on job security, pay and conditions".

HeraldScotland: The RMT strike action will affect the vast majority of ScotRail services

The 48-hour strikes come after industry bosses failed to offer any new deals to reach a settlement.

They will now take strike action on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December and on January 3,4,6 and 7.

There will also be an overtime ban across the railways from 18 December until 2 January, meaning RMT be taking industrial action for four weeks.

The Scottish Retail Consortium said the aciton was the last thing retailers needed at what is "shaping up to be a make or break festive trading period for many stores".

David Lonsdale, director of the SRC said: "City centre retailers have already been battered by the exodus of commuters during the pandemic and have seen sales take a further knock due to the galloping cost of living.

"The revenues stores earn in the lead up to Christmas helps tide them over the leaner period in the early months of the new year. This further train disruption could deter shoppers and derail retail’s recovery and it is imperative both sides in the dispute get back round the negotiating table as soon as possible and thrash out a solution.”

The RMT said: "Despite every effort made by our negotiators, it is clear that the government is directly interfering with our attempts to reach a settlement."

It said it suspended previous strike action in good faith to allow for intensive negotiations to resolve the dispute.

"Yet, Network Rail have failed to make an improved offer on jobs, pay and conditions for our members during the last two weeks of talks," the union said.

HeraldScotland: Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.

"At the same time Rail Delivery Group, representing the train operating companies, have also broken a promise to make a meaningful offer on pay and conditions and even cancelled negotiations that were due to take place yesterday."

Network Rail and key players in crossborder services LNER, Avanti West Coast, Transpennine Express and Cross Country Trains are among the major operators are being hit.

The strike will not just hit cross-border services but also the running of operations across Scotland, including ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper services.

That is because those involved are safety-critical workers, including signallers employed by Network Rail who are crucial to keeping trains running.

ScotRail said it ws assessing what the strike action will mean for ScotRail and will let customers know "as soon as possible" but added the level of disruption will likely be "similar to previous days of strike action".

In the past strike action has meant that ScotRail services has only run services on 11 routes in the Central Belt, Fife, and the Borders between the hours of 7.30am and 6.30pm,

The union said it had evidence from all 14 of the train companies denying that Rail Delivery Group has the authority to conduct negotiations on their behalf, even as they urged them to come back to the table.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "This latest round of strikes will show how important our members are to the running of this country and will send a clear message that we want a good deal on job security, pay and conditions for our people.

"We have been reasonable, but it is impossible to find a negotiated settlement when the dead hand of government is presiding over these talks "The employers are in disarray and saying different things to different people sometimes at the same time. This whole process has become a farce that only the new Secretary of State can resolve. When I meet him later this week, I will deliver that message.

"In the meantime, our message to the public is we are sorry to inconvenience you, but we urge you to direct your anger and frustration at the government and railway employers during this latest phase of action "We call upon all trades unionists in Britain to take a stand and fight for better pay and conditions in their respective industries. And we will seek to coordinate strike action and demonstrations where we can.

"Working people across our class need a pay rise and we are determined to win that for our members in RMT."

The strikes mean passengers will face disruption while travelling to events such as those by comedian Peter Kay in London on 16 and 17 December, as well as Paolo Nutini's gigs in Glasgow on 13, 14 and 16 December.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “The prospect of yet more damaging strikes from the militant RMT union is the last thing that long-suffering passengers need.

“For a moment, it looked as if they might offer us a respite from their plans to wreck Christmas but, true to form, they’ve been unable to resist their destructive approach.

“Thousands of hard-working rail staff have no desire to inflict further misery on passengers, but they are being let down by their extremist leadership.”

Phil Campbell, ScotRail head of customer operations, said: “While this dispute does not involve ScotRail staff, it will have an impact on our ability to provide services as the RMT planned action will involve Network Rail staff in Scotland."

A Rail Delivery Group, spokesman said: “We made real progress over the last fortnight of talks and for the first time in months we can see the outline of a credible deal.

“Further strikes, especially in the run up to Christmas, will disrupt the first normal festive season our passengers have been able to look forward to since the Covid pandemic, taking even more money out of the pockets of railway staff, and will cause huge damage to the hospitality and retail sectors dependent on this time of the year for their businesses. We owe it to them to stay round the table.

“Industrial action has already cost the industry millions in lost revenue, is stalling its post-pandemic recovery, and threatening its long-term sustainability.

“We are asking the RMT to stay at the negotiating table, work with us towards a fair deal and end a dispute that is harming passengers, the industry, and their members.”