Striking rail maintenance workers are already paid almost a fifth more than those doing comparative roles, the industry regulator has said.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said that workers demanding double-digit pay rises are already on salaries that are 18pc higher than “market comparators.”
The independent analysis sheds fresh light on the bitter industrial dispute which has led to rail strikes across the country.
Most of Britain’s railways will grind to a halt again on Saturday as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) walk out. Just one in five trains are expected to run with rail insiders saying the strikes by signal workers mean it is impossible to run anywhere near a full service.
The ORR commissioned independent consultants to look at the total reward, including pay, pension costs and other measurable benefits, of 64,000 railway workers.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, the public sector body that employs signal workers and other maintenance staff, said that the ORR analysis showed many rail workers are already on lucrative pay packets.
He said: “Our staff play a vital role delivering services for millions of passengers and, as the ORR’s report found, we provide a competitive package in line with market rates to reward and attract the best talent. As a public sector body, we balance this with the need to spend public money sensibly.”
Signal and other maintenance workers are not the only ones already benefiting from premium pay.
Station staff salaries are 12pc higher than the “market median”, the ORR found.
When averaged across the entire rail industry, total pay including benefits and pensions was £45,172, some 6.5pc higher than the comparator salary of £42,408.
Train drivers were among the best paid frontline rail workers, receiving an average of £66,043 each year. This compares with the average UK salary of £31,876, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The RMT is now vowing to continue industrial action for another six months to ratchet up pressure on train operators and Network Rail.
Rail chiefs are under pressure from Whitehall to cut costs on the railways to reduce the burden on taxpayers.
Total reward for Network Rail workers who are not maintenance staff is "largely within market rates”, meaning it is less than 10pc higher than comparators.
Liz Truss is under growing pressure to follow through on her pledge to crack down on unions amid fears that the rail network could be shut down completely over Christmas.
Ms Truss had promised to bring in “tough and decisive action to limit trade unions’ ability to paralyse our economy”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary, has been tasked with drawing up a list of “important public services” on which legal limits on strike action can be imposed.
Union leaders have warned they will again try to bring the rail network to a standstill in the run up to Christmas unless there is a negotiated settlement to their pay claims, saying their members were “dug in” for a protracted dispute.
The RMT is preparing to ballot members on strike action after their current mandate runs out at the end of November.
Responding to the ORR report Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, said: "The political thrust of this report is to target the pay and conditions of maintenance workers and station staff - the very same railway workers facing mass job cuts.
“The ORR also fails to acknowledge the extortionate pay of Network Rail executives who took home around a million pounds in the last two years. In stark contrast, Network Rail staff have endured a 3 year pay freeze and have seen a sharp decline in living standards.
“There are also people working for the train operating companies who have suffered years of low pay.
“Strong trade unions like the RMT are important in raising wages and creating good safe working environments. And if that means RMT members' wages are higher than the market rate, there is something wrong with the market.”
Network Rail disputed some of Mr Lynch's claims. They said that operations and maintenance staff had a 3.2pc pay rise in 2019 and 2.2pc in 2020.
Only in 2021 was their pay frozen, in line with the rest of the public sector. The payouts to executives referenced by Mr Lynch were not annual, but aggregated over the years, Network Rail added.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA said: “The employment costs report will stoke anger from rail workers who are already at breaking point. It's a scandal that in 21st century Britain some of the lowest paid rail workers are not even on the real living wage with many more resorting to food banks and benevolent grants to feed their families and make ends meet.
“The rail industry is a specific and defined market in its own right with distinct roles and thousands upon thousands of high-skilled professional jobs, making comparisons with a wider ‘market’ difficult.”