The RMT rail union has rejected new pay offers, in a blow to any hopes the lengthy dispute was close to ending.
The body which represents train firms and Network Rail had described the proposals as their “best and final”.
RMT boss Mick Lynch branded the offers “dreadful”, while the transport secretary called the move “a kick in the teeth for passengers”.
The rejection was made by the national executive committee but the industry and government want a members’ vote.
Twenty officials and representatives sit on the body but the RMT said the decision was made following a wide-ranging consultation with every level of the union involved in the national rail dispute.
Mr Lynch said the offers did not meet members’ expectations “on pay, job security or working conditions”.
The RMT said it would now seek further meetings with Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – which represents train operating companies – to try to work towards a settlement.
But it will start preparing to re-ballot its members when the existing strike mandate runs out in late May.
It is a significant moment in the ongoing national rail dispute – not just because the RMT has rejected what were billed as final offers from the employers, but because the union is now talking explicitly about seeking an “unconditional” pay deal.
The government and industry have said all along that a pay increase would have to be funded by “reforms”.
There had been movement in the dispute in recent months and on all sides the tone had become less antagonistic. But it is clearly not as close to a resolution as some onlookers had hoped.