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Morton slams private sector for poor rail strategy

STRATEGIC RAIL Authority chairman Sir Alastair Morton hit out at the private sector last week over its lack of ideas or strategy for moving the rail industry forward.

Speaking at the second annual conference of Graduates in the Rail Industry (GERI), Morton claimed that rail firms have been focused on short term profits and have made no provision for longer term development of the network and services.

Privatisation should have resulted in companies 'investing money and working out how to make more. The fact that they are not doing this is a denial of privatisation, ' he said.

As a result of short term thinking the future for the rail industry is now 'very unclear', he added.

The situation is not helped by the traditional British mentality of not wanting to plan, but rather 'retreat into the womb'.

Morton claimed the SRA's role is not to 'command and control' but to synthesise investment. He called on the industry to reconsider its priorities and act responsibly.

Morton saved particular criticism for Railtrack for paying a dividend to shareholders while asking the government for further subsidies.

Railtrack chief engineer Andrew McNaughton responded at the meeting by admitting the operator's performance had not been good or reliable, and was too costly. The challenge, he said, 'was to improve for less'.

McNaughton said the industry was being hampered by shortages of engineers.

He described the massive steps being made in track inspection technology in the wake of the Hatfield crash last year, and confirmed Railtrack's commitment to bring in new technology across the industry.

He explained that gauge corner cracking, cause of the Hatfield crash, is notoriously difficult to detect. But he promised that a train mounted system to locate the phenomenon will be available within 18 months.

For more information on GERI contact chairman Gareth Vest (07747) 626842.

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