Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 02:31 GMT
Rail regulator raps Railtrack
Tom Winsor: "Railtrack must raise its game or forfeit profits"
The rail regulator has warned Railtrack it faces huge fines if it does not detail by February how it plans to upgrade the West Coast Main Line.
Fourteen passenger and freight operators use the line. Among them, Virgin Trains, wants to run faster and more frequent services with new tilting trains.
Railtrack could face unlimited fines if it does not publish strategy, cost plans and timetables for the upgrade by 29 February, said Mr Winsor.
Railtrack also faces scrutiny for its record on train delays and its role as safety watchdog in the wake of last month's deadly crash of two trains near London's Paddington station.
Its shares were down 43 pence at 1170p in late morning trade.
Mr Winsor warned Railtrack was likely to breach its network licence if it failed to meet his demands.
"Railtrack has the talent and the ability - I'm giving them the will."
Railtrack said it saw Mr Winsor's decision as "a shot across the bow" and that the company was "well on the road" to producing the necessary reports by the February deadline.
Commercial director Richard Middleton, said: "We will provide all of the capacity and the speed that we've contracted to provide - that issue is not in doubt."
Its profit level, at a time of growing unrest about the quality of rail services, would have caused controversy even before the Paddington crash.
The industry's financial structure is being reviewed by Mr Winsor, who said he had "yet to determine how much more" Railtrack should plough into upgrading the rail network.
He said the final decision would be made in July 2000, but that provisional conclusions would be published next month.
Turning to Railtrack's current £27bn 10-year investment programme, he said that it would cost £16bn just to maintain the network, leaving only £1bn a year for improvements. "It just won't do the business," said Mr Winsor.