TREASURY AND Transport officials want to sideline freight access to the upgraded West Coast Main Line to save money forthe taxpayer, Britain's biggest rail freight operator claimed this week.
English Welsh & Scottish Railways planning director Graham Smith fears the government is trying to maximise passenger train paths on the line, while scaling down the project.
But maximising train paths could minimise compensation payments from Railtrack to passenger operator Virgin for lost train paths resulting from the decision to scale down the project.
Smith fears officials will undermine an expected recommendation from the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) that the government recognise the importance of the route to freight targets.
The SRA board met last week to agree principles for the revised upgrade.
The 1997 agreement between Virgin and Railtrack gave Virgin 11 train paths an hour, capable of allowing 225km/h running by 2005, plus an extra 42 freight paths a day.
But project costs spiralled from original estimates of £2.5bn to latest estimates of over £7bn, and the project is expected to be scaled down.
Agreement must be sorted out before Railtrack can come out of administration, and a reduction in scope would lead Virgin to receive compensation payments from Railtrack, which in effect, will come from government.
Smith this week claimed that officials were pushing to get Railtrack out of administration as quickly and cheaply as possible.
He believes that senior staff at the Department of Transport Local Government & the Regions and Treasury officials have actively pushed for proposals that would give Virgin most of the available train paths.