Infrastructure maintenance company GTRM has been working in an informal partnering arrangement with Railtrack and train operator Virgin to make sure West Coast Main Line expresses arrive on time.
In just a few months, 90% of the trains are turning up at Euston as advertised, a dramatic improvement on the previous average of just 75% - thanks to better planned and co-ordinated train maintenance and track work.
The effort helps improve the mood of passengers, but it also has a very positive effect on GTRM's business. Every minute of delay caused by track faults over an accepted benchmark costs the contractor £147. It does not take long for that to add up.
'Earlier this year we had a fault on the overhead power line at Willesden, and it cost us £750,000,' says GTRM managing director Mike Casebourne. But, he explains, when you do better than the benchmark you earn bonus, and despite events like the Willesden incident, GTRM is receiving bonuses and making profit on a turnover up from £150M to £200M - though Casebourne will not say how much.
The company is a joint venture between GEC Alsthom and Tarmac. It purchased the Central Infrastructure Maintenance company from BR. It is responsible for 7,200km of track, including the whole of the WCML from Euston to the Scottish border. This contains the most heavily trafficked section of rail in the country - the four track between Rugby and Euston. Also in GTRM's remit are all the West Midlands suburban lines plus the routes west to mid-Wales and east to Norwich.
'Since we took over, we have been focusing on where the major delays occur,' Casebourne says. There are five major sources of problems for GTRM - the overhead line, points failures, signalling failures, track circuit failures and broken rail. 'We identified where these problems were most likely to occur and targeted maintenance there. In April 1996, when we took over the business, our average monthly delay on the Euston to Rugby section, for instance, was 40,000 minutes. Now we are down to 20,000 minutes. The target is to cut that last figure by another 15%.'
As well as focusing labour on the essentials, GTRM is investing in mechanised small plant to speed up work once done by hand.
GTRM works closely with sister track renewal contractor Centrac. 'We have the manpower - all 3,500 of them. They have the plant. We trade to each other's advantage,' Casebourne says. 'And we look at their renewal programme and try to fix our maintenance around it to keep possessions to the minimum.'