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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Railtrack's 'appalling year'
Railtrack chairman John Robinson
John Robinson: 'Performance is not good enough'
Railtrack chairman John Robinson apologised for the company's poor performance as he faced survivors of recent fatal train crashes at a stormy annual general meeting.

The Railtrack chief told a packed shareholders' meeting in York that it had been an "appalling year for Railtrack, its customers, the public, its staff and its shareholders.


As a board we are deeply sorry that these accidents occurred

John Robinson, Railtrack chairman

"Above everything we think most on an occasion like this, of the families of those killed, injured and shocked after Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Great Heck.

"As a board we are deeply sorry that these accidents occurred."

Before the meeting, which opened with a minute's silence, Mr Robinson met survivors and relatives of victims of recent rail crashes, who were staging a protest outside the hall.

He promised to hold further meetings with them and said they would not be left behind as the company moved forward.

Meanwhile, investors worried about the firm's financial health, as it gears up to raise billions of pounds to invest in rail infrastructure.

Protest

The protesters were angry at Railtrack's safety record and big payouts awarded to Railtrack executives.

Many had bought shares in Railtrack to entitle them to have a say at the meeting.


We cannot move on, we have lost our son, that can never be healed... but Railtrack as a company needs to move on

Peter Macauley, Railtrack shareholder

Peter Macauley, whose 26-year-old son died in the Ladbroke Grove crash two years ago, said he wanted Railtrack to acknowledge the suffering it had caused.

"We want to see Railtrack move on. We cannot move on, we have lost our son, that can never be healed, it can never be fixed, but Railtrack as a company needs to move on," he told the BBC.

"They have got to do some reconciliation. They have got to step out from behind their legal barriers and say 'we are terribly sorry, we regret what happened'," he said.

'Deep sympathy'

Mr Robinson told shareholders he saw "a railway not performing well".

"I see internally a lack of clear structure in many areas and extremely heavy bureaucracy almost everywhere," he said.


Despite all the efforts that have gone in, the performance of the railways is still significantly short of where we want to be

John Robinson, Railtrack chairman

"Morale is low, not surprisingly given the constant criticism from all sources, at all levels. Dealing with these issues has to be management's key task.

"As we outline in the annual report there is poor performance on many of our major investment projects."

"Projects which were accepted several years ago without proper specifications, detailed costings and contingencies have led to overspending and missed deadlines.

"Slowly, one by one we are getting on top of these issues but it will take time."

Speaking before the meeting, he said Railtrack had had "a terrible year" and "despite all the efforts that have gone in, the performance of the railways is still significantly short of where we want to be".

'Better job'

"We just have to do a better job," Mr Robinson told the BBC.

Former Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett
Gerald Corbett left the company after the Hatfield crash, and got a huge compensation payout

"The share price is a reflection of the issues in the company.

"We have to run the company better and that is a management issue and that is a huge task."

He added: "Before Hatfield, the assets of the business were not in as good an order as they should be.

"Latterly, we have increased maintenance expenditure by a third and yet train punctuality is not as good as it should be."

Executive pay

Railtrack came under fresh attack recently after it was revealed that former chief executive Gerald Corbett was given a huge compensation package.

Mr Robinson has since ordered a review of compensation arrangements for 40 senior managers.

He told Tuesday's meeting that executives would be paid in a manner that "reflects their responsibilities", to shareholders and the wider economy.

Railtrack shares
Monday close - 308.25p
Tuesday close - 296.5p
Float price - 390p
Peak - 1768p
Market value - 1.5bn
Tony Knox, injured in a 1999 train crash near London's Paddington station which killed 31 people, said that, while he welcomed Mr Robinson's apology, Railtrack had to do more to appease its critics.

"We want them to improve their methods of working," he said.

Uncertainty

The company's shares have plunged more than 70% and out of the FTSE 100 index since October's Hatfield crash.

Railtrack has had to spend massively on track repairs
Railtrack has had to spend massively on track repairs

But the major issue facing shareholders is the government's much-vaunted 10-year transport plan, which has already been thrown into doubt by Railtrack's financial position and uncertainty surrounding its future role.

On Monday and Tuesday Railtrack's shares fell amid fears that it could face problems trying to raise funds of 2bn-3bn - to make improvements to the network - on the financial markets.

Investors are nervous of the risks Railtrack offers, said Jeff Randall, the BBC's business editor.

"They have taken a lot of financial pain over this," he said.

It is believed the government is not providing enough indications that it is backing the company.

The current state of the bond markets will also have an impact on the company's aspirations.

According to bond experts, companies that are perceived as "risky", such as Railtrack, will have an even harder job trying to raise money.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, three people were injured when a train hit the buffers at Edinburgh's Waverley station.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's transport correspondent Tom Symonds
"Railtrack may ask to borrow more money next year"
The BBC's business editor Jeff Randall
"The cost of raising money on the bond markets will be expensive"
Railtrack Chairman, John Robinson
"We have to do a better job"
See also:

24 Jul 01 | Scotland
Passengers hurt in train accident
23 Jul 01 | Business
Railtrack funding under threat
09 Jul 01 | Business
Railtrack boss gives up bonus
04 Jul 01 | Business
Railtrack bosses get 2m options
22 Jun 01 | Business
Corbett pay-off branded 'obscene'
18 Jun 01 | Business
Railtrack faces its critics
05 Jun 01 | Business
Privatisation - the Railtrack way
05 Jun 01 | Business
Railtrack shares slump
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