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Winsor challenged on West Coast Main Line

RAILTRACK THIS week vigorously defended its efforts to keep the beleaguered £2.2bn West Coast Main Line upgrade on track in the face of Rail Regulator threats to restructure the project.

The rail operator will invite Rail Regulator Tom Winsor to its offices to explain how a recent management shake-up is boosting progress on the project.

The news follows last week's announcement by the Regulator that he will slap an enforcement order on the network manager if it cannot prove to him by 29 February that it can meet WCML capacity commitments.

Failure to comply with the enforcement order could result in a heavy fine. However, it is more likely that the Regulator will order Railtrack to pay outside consulants to carry out a major strategic review of the project. Winsor said last week: 'Seventeen months after [the capacity commitments] were given, Railtrack does not have robust enough plans to meet its capacity commitments.'

As well as providing 12 high-speed paths an hour for train operator Virgin's 225km/h tilting trains, Railtrack has to provide two additional high- speed paths per hour for other train operators plus another 42 paths a day for slow trains (taking the total number of slow paths to 82) by summer 2005. It is these additional paths that are in doubt.

Railtrack has until 10 December to respond to Winsor's comments. Failure to persuade Winsor he is wrong will mean that Railtrack has until 29 February to prove it can meet its commitments for the upgraded route. If Winsor is still dissatisfied he will initiate action.

Railtrack executives have expressed disappointment at last week's announcement. They feel that changes made to the project in the last few months have started to turn the project around (NCE 30 September).

General manager Tony Fletcher said: 'I am disappointed to receive the Regulator's comments because in the six months since I joined the team we have made some dramatic improvements in getting to grips with the project.

'We are well on our way with phase 1 and have taken a very responsible approach to reviewing phase 2 [see lead news story]. We have really pulled our socks up. I would be delighted to share all this with the Regulator.'

Fletcher believes the project has suffered because it is the first major upgrade to be carried out post privatisation.

Richard Thompson

Rail Freight Group: www.rfg.org.uk

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