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Railtrack safety still not up to scratch - Winsor

RAILTRACK HAS failed to halt a decline in track quality and safety standards, according to separate report published by the Rail Regulator and HM Railways Inspectorate this week.

Regulator Tom Winsor criticised Railtrack in his official response to a report on Railtrack's stewardship of the network carried out for his predecessor by management consultant Booz Allen & Hamilton in April (NCE 15 April).

Winsor said Railtrack's knowledge of its assets was inadequate. He said that its policy to extend the average age of assets before they are renewed meant the network manager 'may well be focusing too much on the short term and storing up serious problems for the future'.

Failings arose because Railtrack's network licence, which was drafted in 1994 when Railtrack was still a public sector company, was unsuitable for the privatised company, said Winsor.

He said he would change the company's licence to make the company more publicly accountable.

The new licence will force Railtrack to create a comprehensive asset condition database and set up a new system of reporters for monitoring the condition of its assets.

Railtrack will also have to finalise broad measures of asset conditions and develop data on network capacity, including gauging data for train operators.

New licence conditions will make Railtrack draw up a binding code of practice concerning its dealings with customers.

The conditions will force the operator to take urgent steps to reduce broken rails and cut train delays by 12.7% between 1 April 1999 and 31 March 2000.

Railtrack will have to produce a freight routing strategy by February 2000, including costed specifications for meeting the ten year traffic projections of freight operators.

Railtrack's record on track quality was expected to come under attack in HMRI's annual rail safety report. As NCE went to press details of the report were unavailable but a spokesman confirmed that a 21% jump in broken rails and 8% rise in signals passed at danger were major concerns for inspectors.

Railtrack admitted that it needed to improve its asset management system but argued a balanced approach was needed. It claimed track quality had improved in the last three years and the number of broken rails was on the decline after it introduced a series of mitigation measures. It pointed out that the Booz Allen report covered a five year period and did not reflect the recent improvements.

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