Strikes by members of the RMT union could start within a fortnight and cause widespread delays and cancellations. Yesterday it announced votes for action at seven out of eight maintenance companies and expects most workers at another six firms where results are due in a week to follow suit. The 10,000 employees work on signalling and tracks.
Figures yesterday showed 67 per cent of staff had opted for action. Representatives meet in London on 6 June to decide what form the action will take and when.
The union says restructuring deals on offer from the companies mean many members will be worse off. Bob Crow, the union's assistant general secretary, calculated that an employee on the basic grade working 49 hours a week, including 10 hours' overtime, would be pounds 40 worse off.
The companies are trying to reform the old British Rail systems, which meant staff were on low basic rates but with considerable and complex "add-ons". Yesterday Mr Crow called for immediate negotiations and some companies registered readiness to meet the union.
Current basic rates vary from pounds 166 to pounds 220 a week for track workers, the union said. Negotiators for RMT have called for basic rates of pounds 16,000 to pounds 27,000, better leave and a four-hour cut to 35 a week.
The companies affected by yesterday's ballot results are AMEC Rail, AMEY Railways, GCRM, First Engineering, Centrac and three repair firms owned by the Balfour Beatty construction firm. They cover rail infrastructure in southern and south-west England, south Wales, the Midlands, East Anglia, and Scotland.