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Why are we waiting?

News this week that Railtrack has prompted the Deputy Prime Minister to delay his decision on whether Thameslink 2000 should go to a public inquiry raises some questions about how the guardian of the nation's rail infrastructure goes about its business.

The latest delay is put down to Railtrack's desire to mitigate the objections raised during the project's recent public consultation exercise.

However, the scheme has been on the slow burner for nearly a decade. The name T2000 refers to the original plan to have the link running by the year 2000, rather than the current 2006 target. To suggest that in all that time the engineers designing the project have not identified exactly where the objections will come from and what needs to be done to resolve them would seem bizarre, and probably do them a disservice.

So why the new delay? Fortunately for Railtrack, it has the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to hide behind. The two phase rescue plan effectively delays the start of the T2000 construction at least until 2001, and possibly until 2003, as the all important

Kings Cross box will only be built as part of the CTRL.

But Railtrack would be hard pressed to overstate its role in getting the CTRL to its current position. It certainly played a major part in the new phasing and timing.

Meanwhile, out on the rest of the network, Railtrack's spending performance is debatable. The headline figure of £17bn to be spent in the next ten years makes good reading.

However, contractors continue to complain that work is not coming through and that investment is being delayed.

With one company so intrinsically linked to every rail infrastructure project in the UK, the scope for creating mutual project dependence is immense.

And while it is vital that good value for money is achieved, the current situation seems to favour deals secured for shareholders rather than investment in tangible improvements for the travelling public.

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