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Tories plan to split up Network Rail

Network Rail would be carved up into regional operating areas under plans revealed by the Conservative Party last week.

Speaking at the Rail 2008 conference in London last Thursday, shadow transport minister Stephen Hammond said: "[Network Rail headquarters] Melton Street may once have known best – it doesn't now.

He added: "Network Rail is too centralised. A breath of decentralising, devolving decisions to regional decision makers either in joint boards or jointly with the train operating companies is now a priority."

The plans were dismissed by the track operator as a step backwards to the bad old days of its predecessor Railtrack.

"There is little appetite from within the industry for further reorganisation," said a Network Rail spokesman. "We are looking at ways to empower route directors to be closer to the work, but we do not want to go back to Railtrack's 'zonal' structure."

Under Railtrack, rail infrastructure was split into six semi-autonomous zones, using outside maintenance contractors. The system was dismantled by Network Rail to ensure consistent standards.

However, Hammond said the rail industry had to accept that "if the institutions [in charge] can't deliver, then those institutions need change".

Hammond also criticised Network Rail for not being passenger-focused. "There are any number of small-scale schemes that could be finished within a three-to-five -year period," he said.

"Network Rail must give this focus. If it doesn't the next Conservative government will enact legislation so they occur."
Hammond also proposed a strengthened Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to tackle problems such as the New Year delays at Rugby, Liverpool Street and Shields Junction.

"The ORR knew of the likely problems but failed to act. If it doesn't have the power to act proactively if necessary against Network Rail we will give it to them. If we conclude it does have the powers we will remind them of their obligations."

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