RAILTRACK FACING MILLIONS IN FINES Ultimatum from regulator as thousands
face more misery as they return to work
Source: Daily Mail
Publication date: 2001-01-03
RAILTRACK was last night threatened with huge fines after the train
companies lost patience with the repair chaos.
In an unprecedented move, Rail Regulator Tom Winsor gave the lines and
signals operator a fortnight to provide detailed plans for the whole
Each of the 26 train companies must be given precise information on when
each piece of repair work will be tackled, when each speed restriction will
be lifted and the effect this will have on each train's running time.
Without such plans, they cannot produce timetables which have any chance of
A complex formula of penalties means Railtrack could be fined as much as
4million for every firm out of the 26 in which it fails to produce the plans
by January 18 or if it then fails to live up to them.
It could end up paying the biggest fine in corporate history.
Mr Winsor's drastic move came as the first working day of 2001 produced yet
more chaos and misery for travellers.
Both East and West Coast main lines were badly hit by Railtrack's failure to
carry out a major resignalling project in North London on time.
It was the last straw for the train operating companies, already furious at
Railtrack's slow and chaotic progress over the repairs needed after last
year's Hatfield crash.
George Muir, director general of the Association of Train Operating
Companies, said: 'We know Railtrack has made progress in the past three
weeks but it has been piecemeal and short term. We don't yet have a
return-to-normal plan for each operator.
This is what passengers need.
'We just can't leave it to chance and that is why we sought the order.' ATOC
fought shy of publicly criticising Railtrack but there had been acrimonious
talks in private and Mr Winsor was asked to take his tough line shortly
The regulator said last night: 'Specific plans are needed to underpin the
provision of passenger and freight services during the delivery of the
national rail recovery programme.' His spokesman refused to speculate on
potential fines, saying: 'This is uncharted territory. It has never happened
before.' Railtrack was fined 10million by the regulator last year for poor
performance.The fine has yet to be implemented, however, and is being held
against future performance targets.
The company made pretax profits of 360million last year and had projected a
figure of 270million for this year.
Much, if not all, of that is likely to be swallowed up by compensation
claims from train companies.
Mr Winsor had already made it clear he was prepared to crack down hard on
Last October he unveiled a 15billion five-year safety funding package
financed by the train operators which was 250million more than Railtrack has
asked for. But the regulator warned 'no more excuses' and said he was
'improving the carrot, but not throwing away the stick'.
His order yesterday still took some Railtrack board members by surprise,
coming only a few hours after Deputy Premier John Prescott had visited the
A spokesman for Railtrack said plans were already well advanced to provide
updated route-by-route recovery plans.
Mr Winsor's move was welcomed by Stewart Francis, chairman of the Rail
Passengers Council, who repeated his organisation's calls for the structure
of industry to be reexamined.
'Events post-Hatfield have revealed a lack of joined-up thinking,' said Mr
Late working on two new signalling systems, at Willesden and Leeds, forced
Virgin Trains to cancel 16 West Coast services yesterday, while GNER ran
buses between Wakefield and Leeds. Rail- track blamed bad weather and
Train operators fear there may be worse to come as many people had taken
yesterday as an extra holiday.
The Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England warned yesterday that
public confidence in the railways had sunk to its lowest ever. But chairman
Wendy Toms said train companies must share the blame.
Comment Page 12
Publication date: 2001-01-03
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