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Top Railtrack staff kept on to run new rail operations arm

News :

RAILTRACK ADMINISTRATOR Ernst & Young this week moved to consolidate Railtrack's senior engineering expertise as it split the railway operations arm from the parent group.

But further down the ladder, engineers are still leaving the organisation and its key suppliers as contract delays continue.

Technical director Richard Middleton, a chartered civil engineer, and Chris Leah, safety and operations director, have been asked to head the new standalone public company which will concentrate on running the network in isolation from the group.

However, resignations from Railtrack have risen to around 70 a month. Temporary staff are not having their contracts renewed.

Redundancies are also being made within Railtrack's suppliers. Teams set up for contracts, such as the South Central franchise, have been hit as work relied on Railtrack cash and now awaits government funds.

The special purpose vehicle (SPV) team for South Central, including staff from Bechtel and Govia, had been set up to take forward upgrading once the franchise was awarded. Staff have been cut from 200 to 20 .

And, although the franchise is still expected to be awarded early next year, doubts remain, as Railtrack was to play a major part in the SPV.

Industry experts believe the government is starting to appreciate the enormity of the task ahead on the railways. It is, they say, a culture change that is needed in the industry, not sweeping structural changes.

But by elevating experienced engineering and rail employees to the top level, the administrator hopes to leave behind the adversarial suppliers' relationships that have characterised recent years.

But despite the recent spate of redundancies and resignations, experienced rail engineers are still in short supply as there is so much work to be done.

Recruitment agencies are already reporting an increase in the number of engineers leaving permanent positions to work on more lucrative short-term contracts, confident that there is plenty of work available.

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