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Railtrack acts to secure WCML upgrade schedule

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RAILTRACK IS to clamp down on possession management and insist its contractors invest in new plant as it struggles to meet the 2005 deadline for upgrading the West Coast Main Line.

WCML managers have warned the deadline will be in doubt unless work is done more efficiently using tighter management and higher output equipment.

The warnings came after the network manager revealed that costs on the project to upgrade the WCML to take 225km/h tilting trains by 2005 had jumped from £2.2bn to £5.8bn. The increase results partly from its decision to abandon moving block signalling (NCE 11 November 1999).

The 160% cost increase reflects the massive rise in infrastructure works required to deliver capacity levels that moving block signalling would have provided.

But to carry out the massive jump in work within the existing deadlines WCML managers said the existing possessions regime had to be overhauled.

General manager Tony Fletcher said: 'Making better use of the current windows is the first big issue. Possessions utilisation is not good at the moment. We cannot tolerate that on the WCML. We have been looking at logistics management with the Royal Corps of Engineers and distribution firm Exel. We are really trying to think outside the box.

'The second big issue is how to get better possession regimes. This might mean a smaller number of larger possessions or planning to knock the last train out in the evening.'

He warned that contractors wanting to work on the project would have to show willingness to invest in high output machinery and to work in alliance.

'The only way we can deliver WCML is if we change how the railway industry works. One of the big challenges is: can the current railway structure deliver such a serious upgrade in a mature manner?

'I want to minimise the number of suppliers on this job because the logistics are a nightmare. Therefore we want to minimise the number of interfaces. We are trying to form relationships through the alliancing mechanism.'

He also said this was a great opportunity for contractors to take the initiative.

'I'm surprised how conservative some of our suppliers are in terms of getting in position to maximise the opportunity about to befall them.'

He highlighted Jarvis as an example of what he was looking for. 'Jarvis was quite courageous in getting out there and ordering the high output track relaying machine.'

Railtrack confirmed the hike in costs in its response to the Rail Regulator's draft enforcement order served on the network manager in November.

Railtrack said it would deliver its phase one commitment to upgrade the route to take 200km/h trains by May 2002.

It also said it would meet its commitment to deliver 225km/h train paths to take Virgin Rail's new high speed tilting trains by May 2005. But to do so it has had to abandon the unproven moving block signalling and increase remaining civils work.

Most of this extra work includes four tracking in the Trent Valley, work in the Coventry to Birmingham corridor and necessary crossovers at Northampton and Nuneaton.

To meet a commitment to the Rail Regulator to provide more slow train paths, Railtrack will also build an extra 9.6km of four tracking in the Trent Valley and rework the platforms at Watford Junction to handle greater volumes of stopping trains. Completion of this work has been deferred to 2007.

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