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Railtrack needs more engineers despite loss of new works

MORE ENGINEERS will be needed by Railtrack despite this week's decision to relinquish responsibility for new works and to refocus on maintenance and renewals as part of a £1.5bn Government bail-out thrashed out with deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Assurances were given by Railtrack chief executive Steve Marshall and technical director Richard Middleton as they announced the deal and the root and branch redirection of the firm's engineering activities that must follow. This includes handing construction responsibility for Section 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to US firm Bechtel.

'We will need more engineers not less. The need for integration with all major upgrades means we will still require major [engineering] engagement, ' said Middleton. He added that Railtrack engineers would work with private sector firms to build new works and ensure compatibility and safety with the rest of the network.

Chief operations officer Jonson Cox confirmed Railtrack would also 'take greater ownership' of inspection and renewals work, meaning more demand and work for in-house engineers.

'It was quite clear after Hatfield that the maintenance process did not work, ' said Cox.

'We want to focus on the core operating railway. This will mean a different set of skills to developing an enhancement programme.'

Railtrack, the one time City darling is expected to post a loss of around £400M, sparked by the October Hatfield disaster which exposed a network near collapse.

In exchange for the £1.5bn advance of funds not due until 2006, Railtrack must appoint a new non-executive director approved by the Government and the Strategic Rail Authority and form partnerships with the SRA for all new works projects.

All such enhancements will now be assessed on a project by project basis jointly by Railtrack and the SRA to determine what managerial and financial involvement, if any, it will have.

The move should limit the financially crippled firm's exposure to construction risk - currently up to around £10bn - and pass this to the private sector.

'We are still in the enhancement business. But we have to manage our involvement without sinking the company, ' said Marshall, welcoming the move.

He added that the work was 'too much for one company'.

Costs have risen on a number of projects, spectacularly on the West Coast Route Modernisation where further costs of £0.5bn were revealed on Monday, bringing the cost of this project, originally budgeted at £2.2bn, to £6.3bn.

It was also confirmed on Monday that gauge corner cracking had been discovered in new rails installed at around 200 sites following Hatfield. With 140 repairs outstanding, Railtrack said the disaster has cost it £600M so far with further performance payments of up to £500M expected over the next five years.

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