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Thursday, August 19, 1999 Published at 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK


Railtrack faces £40m fine

No trains: Regulator says Railtrack must do better

Railtrack is facing a fine of up to £40m unless it dramatically reduces train delays across the rail system, the industry regulator has warned.

The BBC's Transport Correspondent Simon Montague reports on Railtrack's possible fine
Tom Winsor said the company must cut delays caused by track and signal related engineering by 12.7% by the end of March 2000.

If it fails, Railtrack races a £4m penalty for each percentage point by which the company falls short of the target, Mr Winsor said.

[ image: Maintenance: Railtrack appealed for more time]
Maintenance: Railtrack appealed for more time
Last year, Railtrack cut delays by only 2%, despite a target of 7.5%.

Railtrack could still face fines of up to £20m if it fails to catch up on that shortfall, which the regulator said must be reached in 1999-2000.

The company, which owns the track, stations and signalling of the network, has already said that it cannot meet that target and has appealed for another year.

But Mr Winsor said: "Passengers have been waiting far too long for better performance from the railways.

Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor talking to the BBC's Today programme
"They have heard numerous statements of good intentions and been given promises of jam tomorrow.

"The time has come to take action to make the privatised railways treat the travelling public with the same respect as they treat their shareholders."

Mr Winsor said he was only making Railtrack meet its own obligations and was not imposing any new conditions.

"Railtrack's record in this area has been poor and I have decided I must act now," he said.

"I would be letting passengers down if I allowed obligations to be broken with impunity or watered down because they are inconvenient."

'Huge hurdle'

But Railtrack said the 40% target set by the Regulator represented "a huge hurdle".

[ image: Passengers should not bear the burden of any fines, says regulator]
Passengers should not bear the burden of any fines, says regulator
The company stressed that delays had been reduced by over 40% in the last three years, while passenger numbers had increased significantly.

"We have made a 10% improvement in performance in the first quarter of 1999-2000 against the same period last year, but much will depend on how well autumn and winter go," said a spokesman.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott welcomed the Rail regulator's action.

Speaking to GMTV, he said that the industry now had a regulator "who not only barks, but bites on behalf of the passenger".

Mr Winsor's warning comes the day after a damning report by the passenger watchdog, the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee, which found that train delays and cancellations were getting worse and complaints had reached a record high.

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