Rail regulator seeks to tighten grip on Railtrack with tougher contracts

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The Independent Online

Railtrack's ability to get away with train delays and cancellations will be strictly limited under tough new proposals issued yesterday by the Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor.

Railtrack's ability to get away with train delays and cancellations will be strictly limited under tough new proposals issued yesterday by the Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor.

Mr Winsor is proposing much tighter contracts which would ensure the infrastructure company delivered what it promised or suffered substantial financial penalties.

While the new mandatory agreements would cover the obligations of both Railtrack and train operating companies, it is thought that in the past operators have been at a disadvantage in their dealings with the powerful group which owns the infrastructure.

Under the plan the present "weak, vague and unsatisfactory" agreements over track access charges would be replaced with statements in which duties were stated clearly along with the penalties for failing to meet them.

It is understood that the regulator is trying to put an end to situations in which trains are delayed because maintenance and modernisation projects are causing far more disruption than originally thought. The new model contracts borrow heavily from the experience of Virgin Trains, which tied Railtrack to a tough deal over the upgrade of the West Coast Mainline.

It is also an attempt to ensure that Railtrack delivers to operating companies the number of "train paths" it pledged to provide. The contracts would end the uncertainty over liability when, for example, defective railway lines damage trains.

A new system of trading access rights would also be introduced in order to meet the changing needs of customers and train operators.

Mr Winsor said the proposed new contracts would be used when major network enhancements were put in place and when train operators' franchises were replaced.

It was an attempt to end the "culture of disagreement and division" which existed in the industry, he said.

A spokesman for Railtrack said: "We welcome the clarity the new contracts will bring, but we are concerned that it could make the industry even more litigious. However, we will study the proposals and give the regulator our responses."

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