RAILTRACK IS planning to take direct control of the £12M high output track laying machine currently being operated by Jarvis on the West Coast Main Line.
According to sources close to the project, Jarvis is yet to be formally notified of the plans. However, Railtrack intends to take control of the high-tech equipment as part of its stated plans for more direct control over maintenance and renewals work on the network.
Jarvis is the maintenance contractor for the East Coast Main Line and its activities are still under investigation following the fatal train crash at Potters Bar in May. However, it is understood that Railtrack's latest decision is not connected with this incident.
Jarvis imported the P811S machine from America in 2000. It was later transferred to Railtrack ownership for £1 as part of a Jarvis' £550M renewals contract on the West Coast Route Modernisation.
Under the contract Jarvis was paid £1M a year to operate the machine, which is capable of laying 400m of track an hour. This fee covers the machine's operational costs.
But NCE understands that Railtrack has decided to take control over the machine and is currently revising the Health & Safety Executive safety case required to operate it. It will take around 16 weeks to push the transfer through. Railtrack had planned to inform Jarvis of the move in four to six weeks.
A spokesman for Jarvis said this week that it was unaware of the plans, but warned Railtrack of the vast 'holistic' complexities of operating the machine.
This, he said, involved more than just the 18 staff permanently with the machine, but also a 'huge complex operation.'
Railtrack technical director Richard Middleton recently outlined his plans to take greater control of maintenance operations. In a presentation to contractors earlier this month, he detailed plans to take back numerous duties from contractors under new contracts which will replace the recently signed IMC2000 over the next 12 to 18 months.
The changes hope to win Railtrack greater control over planning and decision making and should allow closer monitoring of work done.
Changes described by Middleton included giving Railtrack control over track inspections, decisions over what work is to be carried out, planning of track possessions, and a greater involvement in checking and monitoring of the work.
His proposals leave contractors only to carry out actual physical track repairs.
But the move has not been welcomed by contractors as they already have staff in place to carry out the work.
One disgruntled contractor suggested that Railtrack had asked to take over contractors staff using the Transfer Of Undertakings (Protection Of Employment) Regulations 1981 (TUPE), a move flatly rejected by contractors.
This means that Railtrack will probably be forced to employ staff using a professional services contract with the contractors. Under this agreement Railtrack would pay contractors for the temporary use of their staff, as it has done already with Balfour Beatty in Wessex and First Engineering in Manchester.
However, contractors are waiting to see how the situation develops after Network Rail assumes control of Railtrack, a move still weeks away.
Network Rail has always indicated reluctance to take a hands on approach to maintenance, preferring to leave the risk with the contractors. Its commercial staff could yet overrule Middleton's vision.
Despite an announcement planned this week, the final decision to hand control of the UK's railways to Network Rail still has to be agreed by Railtrack shareholders and the European Parliament, and so could still take several weeks to conclude.