RAILWAYS CHIEF Inspector Vic Coleman has called for an urgent meeting with Railtrack to discuss the alarming 24% jump in broken rails on the UK network.
Coleman demanded the meeting with Railtrack operations director Chris Leah after 937 broken rails were reported in the past 12 months- in comparison to just 756 the previous year.
The figure shows a huge leap in the number of potentially lethal incidents and contrasts with the 836 predicted in Railtrack's Network Management Statement published at Easter.
Track quality is an increasing problem for Railtrack as traffic volume, particularly freight, increases on the network. It is particularly embarrassing for Railtrack as they come in the same week as its announcement of an 8% increase in pre-tax profits to £428M for the year ending 31 March 1999 - a 17% margin on a turnover of £2.573bn.
Concern about the worrying trends in track quality has been growing within the HM Rail Inspectorate. Railtrack's own Network Management Statement itself shows that the number of speed restrictions imposed due to poor track quality has risen over the past two years.
The issue came to a head last month when the HMRI slapped a 32km/h speed limit on Severn Tunnel traffic following a spate of broken rails.
Coleman said: 'It is fair to say we are very concerned. We are in a continuing dialogue about the way Railtrack is managing the problem.'
Railtrack director of operations Chris Leah said he was not sure of the cause but denied that last year's shift away from renewals spending towards maintenance was a factor.
'Over the last four to five years the number of broken rails has slowly gone down,' he said. 'But in the last six months the trend has gone up.