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Watchdog threatens Railtrack shake up over WCML failures

RAILTRACK HAS until the end of the month to convince new Rail Regulator Tom Winsor that it has the expertise to manage its West Coast Main Line capacity commitments.

If it fails to convince Winsor that it can deliver sufficient train paths by the summer of 2005, the new regulator looks set to call in consultants, at Railtrack's expense, to restructure the management of the troubled project.

Railtrack handed the regulator preliminary details of its train path projections for the route last Monday - Winsor's first day in the job. This should outline how it plans to achieve its commitments.

But this information must now be followed up with more detailed timetables and justified with train path graphs by 29 July to demonstrate beyond doubt that promised capacity can be achieved. Winsor is expected to act swiftly should it fail.

Under the £650M second phase of the WCML, Railtrack is committed to providing 12 paths an hour for Virgin's 225km/hour high speed tilting trains plus an additional two high speed paths per hour for other train operators. It must also allow 42 paths a day for slow trains by summer 2005.

Monday's submission follows Railtrack's failure to convince Winsor's predecessor Chris Bolt on 30 April that it could provide more than 25 paths for slow trains in addition to the high speed routes. Bolt called the meeting after train operators complained there would not be enough capacity on the route.

Although at the meeting Railtrack claimed it could achieve the required 42 paths, it was only able to demonstrate it was capable of providing 25 extra paths.

Winsor told the Transport Select Committee two weeks ago: 'The Office of the Rail Regulator has asked for details because it appears (Railtrack's) undertaking will not be met'

A spokesman for the Regulator said: 'We want to be convinced that the plans are in place. It is a management audit. And if we are not satisfied we could bring in a management consultant, at Railtrack's expense, just as we did with the Booz Allen & Hamilton report earlier this year.' (NCE 15 April).

Also speaking before the Select Committee two weeks ago, chairman of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority Sir Alastair Morton echoed Winsor's tough stance. He said the network manager could be forced to increase the £2.2bn outlined for the route in order to meet its commitments. He called for a meeting with Railtrack and Virgin after operators complained there would not be enough capacity on the upgraded West Coast Main Line.

Morton told the select committee: 'I will not be pleased if the capital programme is so tightly proscribed it can't meet the needs of today. It must have surplus capacity in the short term or have to put in an extra line in the future.'

He said this could mean Railtrack is forced to spend more on the route modernisation.

'The solution that creates extra space may involve extra expenditure. Then it will cost more to provide extra space. It will be a catastrophe if in two or three years we have to start [digging up the railway line] all over again.'

Railtrack announced performance figures for the first quarter of the year claiming a 9% improvement in train delays on the same period last year. It also claimed that the number of passenger trains on the network was up by 3%.

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