Construction work is under threat as transport chiefs meet the minister to discuss the downturn

The five biggest public transport firms are due to meet minister Geoff Hoon today, raising fears of imminent cuts in the rail sector.

Executives from Stagecoach, National Express, Go-Ahead, Arriva and FirstGroup are understood to be meeting the transport secretary to discuss the impact of the economic crisis.

Signs of fragility in the transport sector will be a blow to construction firms relying on infrastructure expansion and maintenance to get them through the downturn.

Transport bosses have already come under fire from trade unions for considering recession-driven budget cuts.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said that firms are trying to “have their cake and eat it” by benefiting from large subsidies and fare hikes in good times and cutting jobs and services in bad.

General secretary Bob Crow said: “The big five monopoly operators have been minting it at the public's expense for more than a decade, handing over tens of millions of pounds in dividends to shareholders on the back of public subsidy, overcrowding and massive fares hikes.

“Revenues, profits and dividends have been rising steadily, but at the first hint of a slowdown they want to slash services and sack staff when that is the reverse of what the economy and environment need.”

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said Tuesday's meeting was “routine”.