RAIL REGULATOR Tom Winsor this week slammed Railtrack over its broken rails record and said performance was so poor that it breached the network licence.
Winsor has been forced to appoint an independent specialist consultant to examine the issue and to advise Railtrack as to how it can improve its procedures.
In a letter to chief executive Gerald Corbett this week, Winsor said he was not satisfied Railtrack had taken 'all appropriate steps' to improve its broken rail record. A consultant is expected to be nominated in the next week.
Winsor first wrote to Railtrack in June this year to register his concerns over the figures. The incidence of broken rails showed a 'very disturbing' rise in 1999 to 952, from 755 in 1998 (NCE 9 Dec 1999). Last year the figure dropped to 917, a drop described by the regulator as marginal.
He also alleged that while Railtrack strove to reduce the figures, other areas of track maintenance could begin to suffer and become unsafe. Railtrack has 'categorically refuted' this.
Of equal concern to the Regulator is Railtrack's continued change in its broken rail forcasts. In its 1999 network management statement Railtrack set a reduced broken rails target of 700 for 2001, reducing to 560 by 2006. The 2000 NMS, however, increased the projected targets to 811 and 661.
Railtrack now admits that earlier attempts to predict broken rails were not accurate. But it feels it has the tools to predict the figures more accurately, and that its latest published figures will stand up.
It also insists that rail damage has risen partly because traffic has increased by 30% since the original predictions. New monitoring techniques, including gamma ray radiography and the 'Lizard' system to monitor track, will also be introduced soon, enabling quicker detection of problems.
New monitoring equipment to detect trains with flat wheels, one of the major causes of broken rails, is also about to come into operation. This will enable Railtrack to identify train operators running damaging trains and force them to repair rolling stock.
Railtrack also pointed out that in its first quarter of 2000-01 it achieved a 37% reduction in the number of broken rails on the same period last year. However, the regulator said this decrease was from an inflated base level.