updated 3/25/2010 2:58:13 PM ET 2010-03-25T18:58:13

Union leaders in Britain announced Thursday that rail workers will take a four-day strike, threatening the worst national rail disruptions in 16 years.

Thousands of members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association employed by Network Rail will walk off their jobs from April 6 to April 9. Although Easter holiday travelers will be spared, the walkout by signal workers — scheduled to include the weekdays' morning rush hour — is expected to disrupt the commutes of scores of people.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the unions are protesting cost-cutting measures proposed by Network Rail that he insisted would undermine safety across Britain's railways and threaten rail workers' job security.

"Network Rail, in a drive to slash 21 percent from their budget, want to ax 1,500 maintenance posts, lump maintenance functions on to overworked signalers, rip up agreements and impose changes that will quite clearly undermine safety across our railways," he said.

Network Rail countered that changes were necessary to provide a better service.

"Negotiations, not strikes, are the way forward," said Robin Gisby, the company's director of operations and customer services. "This proposed strike is not about safety ... The issue of safety is a smoke screen from a union leadership stuck in the steam age."

Gisby added that although his company aims to keep as many trains running as possible, a national rail strike will have a "severe impact" on services.

The rail strike adds to the transport woes travelers already face with a planned four-day walkout starting Saturday by British Airways cabin crew.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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