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Network Rail accused of undermining Welsh freight plan

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NETWORK RAIL this week faced claims that it was undermining efforts to shift freight onto rail in north Wales, by producing hugely varying cost estimates for a rail upgrade.

Estimates varying from £8.9M to £211M have caused confusion and thrown the project to upgrade the Conwy Valley line into limbo.

Contractor Alfred McAlpine wants help fund the Conwy Valley line upgrade so that trains using it can carry 1Mt slate waste per year from its north Wales quarries to the rest of Britain.

A report for Alfred McAlpine says that shifting the slate onto rail would remove 200 lorries a day from north Wales roads.

'It has been a painfully slow process to fi nd out what needs to be done and to pin Network Rail down on costs, ' said Alfred McAlpine Slate managing director Chris Law.

The contractor wants to shift the slate waste from its quarries in North Wales by rail to reception terminals in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands (NCE 2 May 2002).

Slate waste would then be sold across the UK as road subbase, earning Alfred McAlpine Slate £10M per year. The contractor is planning to invest in a rail freight terminal next to its slate quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog The project has been in the pipeline since 1998, but has so far failed to be approved by the Welsh National Assembly, which has turned down requests for a public sector contribution after seeing Network Rail's cost estimates.

Its last rejection came in October 2004, when the cost of upgrading the line was given as £63.5M.

After the Welsh National Assembly's rejection of the project, the contractor lobbied Network Rail to take another look at its cost estimates.

The rail operator agreed to bring the cost of line upgrade down to £17.5M but the Welsh National Assembly has yet to review this estimate.

Last week Network Rail was fi ned £250,000 by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) last week for failing to provide up-to-date and accurate information on the capability and capacity of its tracks.

Rail Freight Group chairman Lord Berkeley said Network Rail's poor knowledge of track strengths had led it to giving wildly varying estimates on the cost of upgrading lines for rail freight. This had put off potential operators from starting new services.

In response, a Network Rail spokesman said: 'The issue of published information relating to network capability is a longstanding one, dating back many years and one that is now being addressed as a matter of priority.' Commenting on the state of Network Rail's asset register in general, chief executive John Armitt told NCE: 'As of today we have a very good asset register. What we haven't got is an easily accessible single platform that people can go to.' 'The regulator is putting pressure on us to defi ne assets on some of the more underused lines and we've put in place an action plan to pull this up to scratch.'

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