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Financial backing

Total commitment to build the entire ECML upgrade with Railtrack cash and Railtrack risk, is how Nick Pollard responds to suggestions that the scheme is more words than action. Planning is well advanced and over £90M worth of work is earmarked for later this year.

Pollard accepts that only £764M of the total £1bn investment figure is genuine 'enhancement' of the line, with the balance representing what would anyway have been allocated to essential renewals. He also admits that discussions with the current train operators have not resulted in a single company signing up to Railtrack's investment strategy.

But, he counters, this is not surprising as there is no guarantee that these companies will be around when the upgrade comes on stream as their current franchises will mostly have expired.

There is another potential problem that could yet disrupt Railtrack's commitment. To secure financial backing from the City, Railtrack needs to recover its borrowing mainly through track access charges that deliver a higher rate of return than previously accepted by government for a monopoly supplier. And there is as yet no guarantee from incoming rail regulator, Tom Winsor, that this will be viewed favourably.

'We want a strong Railtrack, not a fat one,' Pollard argues. 'We are prepared to take all the risk and only by working in partnership with Government can we deliver what the market demands.'

Given no intervention, Pollard sees the investment recovery route as a combination of fixed track access charges and revenue sharing. In general he favours more emphasis on the variable rate offered by sharing which depends on passenger numbers and route programming, so encouraging both sides to provide the best possible service.

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