Network Rail will cut the money it is spending on maintaining and running Britain's train tracks if it loses a court case over the 2002 Potters Bar disaster.
The publicly funded infrastructure company inherited the liabilities of its failed predecessor, Railtrack, when it took over in late 2002, including fines imposed after a successful court case against the group over the Hertfordshire crash, in which seven people died.
The Office of Rail Regulation has begun pursuing criminal prosecution over alleged health and safety breaches. Network Rail and Jarvis Rail, which maintained the Potters Bar track at the time of the incident, have been charged.
A Network Rail source said that cost savings to be announced in the group's annual results later this month will "absorb" any fine, should it occur. The fine is potentially unlimited, but it is thought that it would be no more than £5m and a figure closer to £1m would be more probable.
"This is the problem with Network Rail's structure," said a rail industry source. "Its attitude is simply that it can cut budgets. But, in its defence, Network Rail is being prosecuted as an inheritor of an issue."