The rail industry is riddled with "uncontrollable costs" and needs fundamental change, according to a report by an environmental group.
Network Rail described the findings as "well worn" and "out of date"
The report uncovered "the staggering scale of costs and inefficiencies and secrecy", Transport 2000 said.
The costs of track maintenance, upgrades, structures and signalling had been allowed to escalate out of control, it said.
Network Rail has rejected the report as "living in the past".
The report, compiled by Transport 2000 public transport campaigner Mick Duncan, said the rail industry had too many managers and not enough able and empowered staff to make decisions.
It cited the 1,200 people managing the West Coast route modernisation project, compared with a high-speed line project in Holland with a lead team of 40.
The report was the result of discussions, some undercover, with economists, consultants and engineers working in different sectors of the rail industry.
Mr Duncan said the report made "devastating reading".
He said: "Since 1997, the cost of providing our railways has trebled - it appears that much of this money has been wasted on inefficiencies and
incompetence at every turn.
"Network Rail has made some good progress in taking maintenance
and signalling back in-house as an attempt to get control and understanding of
those areas but there is still a very long way to go."
Network Rail's chains of command were too large and complicated
Planning and appraisal were inconsistent
Contracts were "flabby and
Rate per metre for replacing a single rail varied nationally from £116 to £223
He said money currently being spent on railways could be used to build a "world
class network" to meet "the needs of the people of this country."
But a spokesman for Network Rail said the only devastating thing about the report was its "lack of substance and reliance on anecdotal evidence".
"It is small wonder this organisation is called Transport 2000 as it is clearly living in the past," the spokesman said.
"Network Rail inherited significant cost inflation and inefficiencies from
Railtrack, but is already tackling this legacy and bringing down costs.
"Network Rail is improving performance, reducing delays and bringing down
costs. These well-worn criticisms are outdated."