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Skill shortage threatens Railtrack spending

RAILWAY ENGINEERS this week cast doubt on whether the industry was fit to deliver the £27bn, 10-year network improvements programme expected to be announced by Railtrack today.

The plans are set out in Railtrack's widely-leaked annual Network Management Statement. The statement claims the plans represent a £10bn increase in investment and were developed in response to demands by the public and the Regulator.

But in the run-up to publication railway engineers thought delivering investment on such a scale was optimistic.

'Who are they kidding?' asked one contractor. 'Even Railtrack people are surprised by some of the areas of investment that have been talked about. There are not the resources.'

Others suggested that after a long period of rationalisation within the industry and recent scaling down of workload on the rail network, the resources were no longer available to cope with such a sudden increase in spending.

This view was repeated by senior figures across the industry. 'I do see a skills gap,' said a senior contracting boss. 'My big worry is that a lot of companies are getting rid of a lot of people. Who's going to do it all?'

Many also admit to being cynical following Railtrack's failure to deliver previous spending plans.

'How much of the last network management statement made the ground?' asked one engineer. 'The station renewals programme took a lot out of the pot. I would be happy if they delivered the £17bn promised last year.'

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