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West Coast upgrade still on track, claims Fletcher

RAILTRACK WEST Coast Route Modernisation general manager Tony Fletcher this week claimed that a successful end to the year had lifted spirits on the project despite widespread chaos descending on the UK's rail infrastructure.

The possibility of adding a second high output track laying machine to the project meant that time lost as resources were pulled onto maintenance projects should easily be recovered, he said.

But speaking exclusively to NCE this week, Fletcher warned that suppliers would still have to raise their game to respond to the massive challenges ahead.

Failure to deliver meant that Railtrack would quickly look elsewhere.

Fletcher said that so far £680M had been spent on the WCRM project and a total of 4.2M man hours worked. Successes included renewal work at Proof House junction in the Midlands and the Euston remodelling.

The Railtrack board is expected to decide within the next month whether or not to buy another track laying machine, similar to the one already being operated by Jarvis.

If it is agreed, contractor Serco has already been nominated as the operator.

Fletcher confirmed the recent national re-railing programme had held up the WCRM. First the project's only TLM was sent to Hatfield and then was moved to Northampton following a freight train derailment.

'Gaps were built into its programme so it hasn't hampered us too much, ' explained Fletcher.

Along with all other rail contracts, the WCRM has lent staff to the Bechtel-led national rail recovery team.

'The severity of the problem needed this approach, ' said Fletcher, explaining that the situation should soon return to normal. 'We need to regain efficiency and get back to the plan.'

Work on WCRM is now moving ahead in two phases, Fletcher explained. Stage 1, which will allow trains up to 200km/hr, is continuing while detailed planning for stage 2 gets under way. This will start in June 2002 and partners have been selected and a specification is being built up.

Fletcher underlined his view that suppliers would have to perform to justify being part of Railtrack's spending plans.

Investment in the railways is not expected to fall below £2bn for 10 years, he said, but warned: 'If (the suppliers) don't respond quickly enough we will have to look to other markets.'

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