New Railtrack chief vows to win in court

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Railtrack's new chairman – a corporate lawyer who helped privatise the network in the first place – predicted yesterday that Stephen Byers would be in court by Easter as the company begins its legal battle for compensation on behalf of shareholders.

Geoffrey Howe, a former managing partner of the City law firm Clifford Chance, said the nearest parallel he could think of was the BCCI case, which has been going on for 10 years and has now resulted in the liquidators of the failed bank suing the Bank of England. "The objective here is to get a solution, litigation is not an end but a means to an end," said Mr Howe, adding that 360p a share in compensation would be a good place to start.

Mr Howe, 52, will be paid £150,000 for working a two-and-a-half day week at Railtrack and is on a one-year contract. He will not receive a success fee. David Harding, promoted yesterday from finance director to chief executive, will earn £275,000. John Robinson and Steve Marshall, who are stepping down as chairman and chief executive respectively, will continue to be paid £30,000 a year as non-executive directors of Railtrack.

Mr Howe owns no Railtrack shares and avoids travelling by train when he can. He commutes occasionally into the City from his Islington home on the WAGN service but prefers to drive to his weekend retreat in Yorkshire rather than risk the east coast main line. "We all know using the railways can be a frustrating experience at times," he said.

During his 18-year spell at Clifford Chance, the firm acted as legal adviser to British Rail on the transfer of its assets to Railtrack. Mr Howe also handled the sale of British Leyland's parts division, Unipart, to its workforce and was involved in the Laker receivership when he had an insolvency practice.

He is an opera lover and churchgoer whose family attend the same church in Islington, north London, at which Tony Blair used to worship – St Joan of Arc. His mission now is to tie Mr Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, to the stake.