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Rail rescue timetable unrealistic, says industry

News : RAIL IN CRISIS

ADMINISTRATORS WILL be sorting out Railtrack's affairs for far longer than the six months estimated by the government, industry sources warned this week.

Industry insiders told NCE this week that the six month time scale set for the administrator Ernst & Young to transform the track operator into a not for profit company limited by guarantee was unrealistic.

One estimated that examining Railtrack's many construction and maintenance contracts could take up to two years.

Sources claimed the process of working through every contract from Railtrack's 2,000 construction suppliers and ensuring the network continued to run safely and normally could not possibly be carried out within six months.

Accountant Ernst & Young started work this week as railways administrator after Railtrack collapsed at the weekend following the withdrawal of government support.

Its first task was to ensure key engineering and safety staff remained on the board to fulfill safety obligations, an Ernst & Young spokesman said.

Board members Richard Middleton, a civil engineer, and safety officer Chris Leah have been asked to stay on, while the rest of the Railtrack board will be dismissed.

Chief executive Steve Marshall this week handed in his resignation but will work his six month notice period.

All three are named in the Railtrack safety case. This document outlines how the company intends to ensure operations are carried out safely and requires competent and knowledgeable people to oversee its implementation.

A new Railtrack safety case has been requested by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to take account of the new arrangements and must be provided within a month.

Alan Cooksey, former deputy chief inspector of railways at the HSE, has been seconded to Ernst & Young to ensure compliance with safety issues.

Ernst & Young said it would place its staff at regional zone level as well as head office to meet the demands of the court order and to run the network.

The administrators stressed that there will be no initial job losses but many believe redundancies are inevitable. Railtrack had already drawn up plans to lose 35% of is administrative staff before last Friday to save costs, but engineering losses are not expected.

Industry sources said keeping engineering expertise on the board of the not for profit company was essential. Failing to do this has been cited as a key reason for Railtrack's demise.

The Strategic Rail Authority is being urged to appoint engineers from contractors and consultants as well as train operating companies to the board of the not for profit company.

INFOPLUS www. railtrack. co. uk

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