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Profile Tom Winsor Rail Regulator

ANALYSIS

John Prescott's two new rail sentinels have made their first joint appearance. And Railtrack's executives are probably beginning to feel the heat.

Soon to be Rail Regulator Tom Winsor and chairman of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority (shadow until the appropriate legislation is passed) Sir Alastair Morton appeared before the Transport Select Committee last Wednesday to explain their respective roles in Britain's

railways.

The pair insist that they will take a 'carrot and stick' approach to making Railtrack and the train operators improve their performances. But it is clear the double act will not be playing the soft guy/hard guy routine.

Civil engineers know Morton - the man who stood up to the combined forces of Britain's largest contractors and delivered the Channel Tunnel. Morton has already publicly questioned Railtrack's management skills and the true amount of the £27bn spending programme it outlined in April. He is clearly the 'hard guy'.

But what about Winsor? We do not know him. But judging by his comments in front of the select commitee, he is going to be the 'even harder guy'.

In his opening comments to the committee, the 41 year old Scottish lawyer explained that he had considerable experience in the rail industry and his opinion was that 'the record of Railtrack and several others was not acceptable and they must raise their game'.

He told the commitee that he had the power to punish Railtrack and the others (NCE 20 May). He added: 'There is no point in having powers if you are not prepared to use them. And I assure you they will be used.'

Winsor knows the railway industry well. His last position was head of the railway practice of international law firm Denton Hall. And from 1993 to 1995, at the height of the privatisation process, he was General Counsel to the Office of the Rail Regulator. Chambers & Partners' Directory of the Legal Profession described Winsor as 'a brilliant, hard working lawyer'.

Winsor said he saw the Strategic Rail Authority's role as overseer of the rail industry with the Regulator focusing on the dominant monopoly companies.

'The Strategic Rail Authority is a major player in the game. The Office of the Rail Regulator is a referee,' he told the Commitee. 'The role of the Regulator is to ensure the conditions are in place to ensure strong investment.'

'Britain's railway assets exist to serve passengers and other rail users. And the rail companies must realise that their activities must be consistent with this,' he said. 'So long as they promote this, they have nothing to fear.'

The committee asked if he was worried that his tough talking would worry City investors and so reduce Railtrack's ability to invest.

'The perception of the markets is an extremely important factor and the Regulator is obliged to take account of Railtrack's ability to finance its investment,' he said. 'But it must put public interest first.'

'The market must take its own view to the regulatory environment for Railtrack. We have a change in the Regulatory policy because, for the first time, the Regulator is not afraid to use its powers. The assets are legally Railtrack's but they come with important responsibilities. They must discharge their public interest responsibilities.'

Ominously for the network manager, he added: 'They can do it the easy way or the hard way but I will ensure they will discharge their duties.'

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