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SRA gets £150M for rail management role

THE STRATEGIC Rail Authority has been given £150M to fund its new role of jointly managing development of the nation's rail infrastructure.

The new responsibility, coupled with the loosening of Railtrack's role in enhancement works, follows recommendations made by SRA chairman Sir Alastair Morton in his recent SRA Agenda (NCE 22 March).

But within hours of the 1am deal on Monday, senior Railtrack executives threw down the gauntlet to the SRA to prioritise what work needs to be done.

Addressing serious supply shortages in the construction industry and disruption to the network, Railtrack technical director Richard Middleton said: 'The SRA will have to prioritise.

There are real questions of what resources are available to Railtrack.'

He added: 'This is a very serious problem which the whole industry faces. Pushing ahead with all projects will swell resources needed in consultancy and take engineers off front line construction.'

Shortages of skilled staff and limited construction industry capacity also had to be recognised, added Railtrack chief executive Steve Marshall.

'Hopefully the penny has begun to drop and there is an acceptance that we have to prioritise our supply chain, ' said Marshall. 'But perhaps we have to produce more evidence to the Government that the industry supply chain is over-stretched.'

Railtrack will continue to work under current arrangements on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Section 1, the Cross Country Route Modernisation, the East Coast Main Line phase 1, Sunderland Direct, Manchester Masterplan and Thameslink 2000, which will be subject to a procurement review.

Middleton conceded that the decision to sell off British Rail's research capability during privatisation may have been flawed. Announcing a new company, Wheel Rail Systems Authority, he promised a ten-fold increase in research spending.

Railway Civil Engineers Association chairman Graeme Monteith said he remained to be convinced that the new arrangements would improve the situation. He feared it was the start of another learning curve for an industry still seeking stability.

But Rail Freight Group chairman Tony Berkeley welcomed Railtrack's reduced role on major projects, citing spiralling costs on the West Coast Main Line. 'Railtrack should stick to its own game of maintaining and operating the network, ' he added.

However, both welcomed Railtrack's increased 'ownership' of track inspection and closer involvement in maintenance.

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