Railtrack group set for hearing

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The Independent Online

Private shareholders in Railtrack will launch their unprecedented court action against the Government later this month after scoring an early victory over the size of their bill, should their claim fail.

Private shareholders in Railtrack will launch their unprecedented court action against the Government later this month after scoring an early victory over the size of their bill, should their claim fail.

Half of the Railtrack Private Shareholders Action Group (RPSAG) stumped up the bulk of the additional £900,000 needed to bring the Government to court over its decision to force Railtrack into administration in 2001. Although the sum raised fell short of the goal, RPSAG said it had managed to bridge the gap between its previous fighting fund and the potential bill it could face after the Government agreed to cap its claim should shareholders lose the case.

RPSAG is seeking £157m in compensation for its members, which would amount to £3,200 each if it wins the case. It is Britain's biggest-ever class-action lawsuit and the first time that a court will examine government process.

The action group claims that Stephen Byers, the former secretary of state for transport, abused his powers when he forced Railtrack into railway administration in October 2001. Its writ also alleges that Mr Byers breached the human rights of Railtrack shareholders by misappropriating their assets.

A High Court judge in April said the Government was justified in asking the action group to pay £2.25m. Geoffrey Weir, a retired Railtrack employee and member of the RPSAG committee, said: "We have agreed a cap that is slightly less than that. We have raised sufficient funds to cover that."

Some 23,000 RPSAG members contributed £30 on average to swell the group's fighting fund to £2.4m, Mr Weir said. "Our members have shown that they are right behind us and their response to our call for extra funds has been fantastic," he added.

The trial starts on 27 June. Former Railtrack shareholders have until 10 June to join RPSAG.

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