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Railtrack takes charge Easter marked a key turning point on Railtrack's West Coast Route Modernisation project.

Slow progress has forced Railtrack to take direct control of its £2.2bn West Coast Route Modernisation. It has replaced project manager Brown & Root's project director Ian MacPherson with its own director of capital programmes Tony Fletcher (News last week). Fletcher answers directly to Railtrack's director of major projects Simon Murray.

The change reflects a more hands on approach to Railtrack's major projects in general and WCRM in particular. WCRM was to be a shining example of the new life breathed into Britain's railways by privatisation. It was hoped new technology would turn the route into a high speed marvel, with Railtrack forming partnerships with its contractors to bring greater efficiency into the archaic world of rail maintenance and construction.

But it hasn't happened. Contracts on the WCRM have been delayed, postponed, re-scoped and cancelled as Railtrack baulked at the likely costs.

There have also been fears that if Railtrack failed to award contracts soon it would be unable to meet the 2 June 2002 deadline to upgrade the route for Virgin's 200km/h tilting trains - for which the train operator has paid nearly £1bn (NCE 11 February).

Delays in the new breed of partnering contracts have worsened matters. Last May Railtrack announced plans to enter a partnering agreement with Brown & Root, its project manager on the WCRM. But this has still not materialised.

Railtrack last week admitted that Brown & Root's role was 'not yet determined' and the alliance was 'up for discussion'. Insiders close to the project suggest the tie up was dead in the water. Railtrack has also admitted that a recent advertisement for project programmers in European Union's Official Journal was for WCRM. This suggests Brown & Root's role in the project is shrinking.

Announcement of another WCRM partnering contract, this time between Railtrack, Balfour Beatty and signalling contractor Westinghouse on the Euston approach remodelling, has also been delayed by months of legal wrangles over professional indemnity. Railtrack finally awarded the contract on Monday. Insiders used to dealing with the network manager say that once Railtrack's lawyers get involved the contracts end up looking much as they always did, instead of being partnering arrangements.

But this might be about to change. Though the changes at WCRM followed recommendations by manage- ment consultant Nichols, they actually represent the start of Simon Murray's reign as director of major projects.

Murray's brief is to deliver WCRM, Thameslink 2000 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. His appointment has been widely welcomed within the industry. As one of the high priests of partnering, the former BAA and Ove Arup man is expected to bring the new skills and attitudes that Railtrack needs if it is to deliver a network 'fit for the 21st Century.'

Richard Thompson

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