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Railtrack pledges better supplier relations for increased safety


RAILTRACK CHIEF executive Gerald Corbett has pledged to improve the company's relationship with its suppliers as part of a drive to enhance safety on the network.

Speaking after Monday's rail summit, Corbett told NCE: 'We have all now got to work much closer together to deliver the safety improvements the country needs.

'If we have not worked together well in the past it is a result of the way the industry was privatised. It is time now for us all to grow up.'

The summit, called by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in the wake of the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster which killed 30 people, brought together 50 rail industry representatives.

Balfour Beatty chief executive Mike Welton was the only civil engineering representative at the closed meeting. But Corbett said Railtrack's contractors and consultants would be 'inextricably linked' to plans to improve safety.

Railtrack has been accused by its suppliers of using bullying tactics to cut the cost of work and speed up the delivery of projects. One senior supplier claimed this week: 'Railtrack uses the strength of its monopoly position to great affect. The carrot of future work is often dangled when it comes to settling accounts.'

Responding to Corbett's remarks, Railtrack suppliers gave a cautious welcome.

'We contractors have been working hard to develop a relationship. I'm sure Gerald's wishes are real and that it is the same for all senior management. But we hope that translates to the foot-soldiers on the ground,' said one senior contractor.

Corbett's pledge comes at the same time as Railtrack is planning a thorough overhaul of the way it manages its suppliers. It is expected next month to announce strategic partnering deals with fewer supplier companies and a shake-up of Railtrack's own project management style.

The promise also followed this week's publication of a supplier perception survey which measures Railtrack's performance as a client.

Suppliers had feared that they would not see the survey results (NCE 2 September). But Railtrack head of construction efficiency Tony Ingle- Finch announced top line results to 75 suppliers on Friday.

The survey showed Railtrack's performance as a client was perceived as 'world class' in some areas but 'the reverse' in others. Suppliers admitted they too had to improve their performance and that a major cultural change was necessary.

The survey suggested Railtrack needed to improve its:

adversarial and oppressive culture;

short term planning - to give a clearer idea of long term investments;

inconsistent behaviour across departments and zones; and

confusing communication and 'lack of clarity' in decisions.

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