Gordon Brown insisted today he was hopeful that rail peace talks can be restarted to avert a strike which would cripple train services after Easter.

The Prime Minister said a planned four-day walkout by maintenance workers, signallers and supervisors would be "unhelpful" and benefit neither side.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union and Transport Salaried Staffs Association has warned that the rail network will "effectively be shut down" by the action between April 6-9.

Network Rail said today it was trying to convene new talks with the unions, probably early next week, in an attempt to resolve the dispute over jobs and changes to working practices.

The company 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.

Mr Brown told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels: "I hope there will be no rail strike. It would be unhelpful for everybody if there was a strike. I think it is possible to see a way forward on this.

"I believe that nobody wants to lose the services, particularly in April.

"Sometimes talks break down and we need to do our best to get these talks restarted. I think that is what is going to happen over the next few days.

"We are trying our best to make sure there is arbitration to avoid industrial action."

The premier went on: "I hope that both sides will recognise the need for a settlement and that there is no gain for anyone in a continuation of this industrial dispute."

The row is over plans to cut 1,500 maintenance jobs and change existing working practices which would see more work carried out in the evenings and weekends.

The unions claim the move would hit safety - a claim strongly denied by the company.

NR said it hoped to achieve the vast majority of the 1,500 job losses through voluntary redundancy.

The Association of Train Operating Companies condemned the action, while the Government has urged both sides to resume negotiations.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: "A strike is in no-one's interests and could cause serious disruption to passengers. Both sides should seek to resolve this dispute by negotiation and not confrontation and I am urging them to do so."