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Rail regulator Tom Windsor
"The renationalisation of Railtrack would be enormously expensive"
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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Re-nationalise Railtrack say MPs
The Hatfield rail crash
Hatfield was blamed on poor track maintenance
Railtrack's record on safety, maintenance and renewal is so poor that the government should seriously consider re-nationalisation, says a committee of MPs.

The Commons Transport Select Committee brands the chaos on the rail network after last October's Hatfield crash as "simply not acceptable".

Its report, published on Thursday, comes as a joint inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove and Southall rail crashes set deadlines for the introduction of new safety systems.

Railtrack's past record is simply not acceptable

Commons Transport Committee

But the call was dismissed by the rail regulator as "enormously expensive" while Railtrack itself insists much has been done already to address the MPs' concerns.

The committee's report says: "Railtrack has not maintained and renewed the network to a standard which could reasonably be expected of it. Its past record is simply not acceptable."

'Several warnings'

Despite being warned several times that its policy of using contractors to monitor and repair tracks was not working, it had taken a major crash to make the company take the issue seriously, say the MPs.

They are "far from confident" Railtrack can deliver the major infrastructure improvements outlined in the government's 10-year Transport Plan, which proposes investing 15bn.

The MPs say it is "unacceptable" for a private monopoly to continue sucking up such vast amounts of taxpayers' cash without ceding some control of its operations to the government.

Their report blames the massive disruption and extra spending caused by the renewal programme after the Hatfield crash principally on Railtrack's past failure properly to manage maintenance and renewal of the national rail network.

It adds: "Such costs are likely to end up being borne, one way or another, by the government.

Government stake

"It is unacceptable that the taxpayer should be compelled to bail out a private monopoly company which has acted so incompetently, without taking any stake in the company in return."

The government should have a say in running Railtrack, either through a majority equity stake or by total re-nationalisation.

Tom Winsor
Winsor: Rejects re-nationalisation

The committee dismisses arguments that state involvement in Railtrack's operation would compromise its status as a private concern.

It describes such views as "spurious, given the uniqueness of Railtrack's position as a highly-regulated company which receives the vast majority of its income from the government".

The Committee condemns both Railtrack's performance and the authorities' monitoring of its work.

It says: "Railtrack's past performance in maintaining, renewing and developing the network has been seriously inadequate.

"The regulation of the company has also been found to be wanting, with serious weaknesses in the way in which the work expected from the company was specified, how its performance was monitored and how the company could be held to account."

'End contracts'

And the MPs say the system of contracting out maintenance work to other companies should be abandoned, with Railtrack taking direct responsibility for the work.

Railtrack chief executive Steve Marshall said the original contracts set up at privatisation had been and continued to be changed.

A comprehensive review of the way maintenance and renewals are carried out was now underway.

We are committed to delivering a safer, better railway and much has been done already to address a number of concerns raised in the report.

Steve Marshall
Railtrack Chief Executive

"It would be wrong and improper to make a knee-jerk reaction to this vital part of keeping the network safe," he said.

Mr Marshall was pleased the committee had acknowledged his company's "huge levels of investment" in maintenance and renewal of the railways post-privatisation.

He added: "We are committed to delivering a safer, better railway and much has been done already to address a number of concerns raised in the report."

Railtrack argues re-nationalisation would bring little benefit to the travelling public.

It stresses its spending on maintenance and renewal in the last year was three times that spent on infrastructure in the year before privatisation.

Rail regulator Tom Winsor also rejected calls for re-nationalisation.

He told BBC News: "The nationalisation of Railtrack would be enormously expensive and would not achieve the objectives of the proponents of the policy.

"What the public wants and what the government wants is the assets of which Railtrack is the steward to be treated in a way which is consistent with, and promotes, the public interest."

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29 Mar 01 | UK
Rail safety deadline set
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