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Splitting Network Rail raises hackles

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), last week proposed that Network Rail be split into 10 independent regional companies or infracos.

These new businesses would be FTSE 250 sized businesses, some as large as the Dutch or Danish national railways.

ATOC says these would eventually be privatised in some form, and calls for separate ownership to begin to be introduced by 2014, in time for the start of Network Rail’s next regulatory period, known as control period 5. ATOC was asked how these companies could survive a shock accident like the Hatfield crash that precipitated Railtrack’s collapse.

It said that “anyone wishing to acquire an infraco will have to make an assessment of risk, will have to be licensed and have the necessary safety credentials and will have to show that it is competent both operationally and financially to manage infrastructure to the required standards”.

Like consultant LEK’s report for the McNulty review (NCE 3 February), ATOC advocates that the Anglia region trial this integration, and it is this that raised the hackles of some.

Rail Freight Group chairman Tony Berkeley says that a joint venture between the infrastructure company and the passenger train operators could be illegal under European directives that state that allocation of rail capacity must be done by a body independent of any train operator.

ATOC admits that “there are certainly issues in relation to European Union law” but says capacity allocation would remain independent with the Office of Rail Regulation.

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