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Poor performance risks rail's future, says Armitt

CONTINUING POOR performance by the UK rail industry risks losing the public and political support needed to secure a future for rail transport, Network Rail chief executive John Armitt warned this week.

'Can the country afford to keep spending £6-7bn a year on the railways for the next 20 years? Many people would say no, ' he said. 'The whole rail industry has a challenge if the costs are as we see them and if this cost is going to cause politicians to question whether we continue to invest in rail.'

Armitt's comments came as the Strategic Rail Authority reported train punctuality figures showing that 80.5% of trains in the UK arrive on time, compared to 80.9% last year.

Network Rail reported last month that delays caused by infrastructure failure were up 7% on last year and accounted for 55% of all delays on the network.

Rail regulator Tom Winsor described this performance as 'unacceptable and unsustainable'.

'We can see situations that we haven't project managed as well as we might have and that we haven't engineered as well as we should have.' he said. 'It can't be right that we are not reducing the number of incidents on the network and that the delay caused by each individual incident is rising.'

'It may be that contractors are doing the wrong jobs or doing them in a different order to that which we would prefer. They may not also get it right first time - there are issues over quality.'

Armitt emphasised that performance had to improve across the board, starting with internal systems at Network Rail but extending right across the supply chain. He has already announced a target of reducing the cost of work by 20% but added that it may be necessary to radically review the work it carried out, to focus effort and spending in the future.

This week should see Network Rail take its Reading area maintenance contract back in house. This will be followed shortly by Wessex and East Midlands, in a move designed to give it much greater input into decision making and work prioritisation.

'We could save hundreds of millions if we could halve the delay minutes on the network, ' said Armitt. 'We are looking at around 100 delay hotspots and making sure that our maintenance contractors are focused on these.'

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