RAILTRACK HAS doubled the life expectancy of its rails to get a better return from its track but risks compromising safety, a report claimed this week.
Research by Sheffield University's Advanced Railway Research Centre published on Tuesday claims Railtrack has extended the accounting life of rails to 79 years - almost double the old British Rail figure and twice that used on the Continent. The accounting life is the assumed service life of an asset.
The report was commissioned for white collar rail union the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, amid fears that commercial demands were being put before safety. It points to recent speed restrictions imposed by the Health & Safety Executive on the Severn Tunnel as an example.
It states: 'The approach used by Railtrack with the Severn Tunnel appears to be one of matching maintenance and renewal programmes to available capital as well as being influenced by the commercial considerations of rail operators.
'However, in this instance, the approach has been flawed because of safety problems associated with rail breaks, rail break detection and signalling safety within the tunnel.'
A Railtrack spokesman denied that extending the life of rails posed a threat. 'We use a more sophisticated system for track renewals.
'British Rail and others on the Continent renew track on a cyclical basis every 40 years. We renew on a condition basis and can therefore target where renewal is most needed.'