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Railtrack promises to invest over pounds 4m a day

Railtrack, the company that owns Britain's track, signalling and stations, will spend more than pounds 4m a day over the next 10 years to resuscitate the nation's vast rail network. The pounds 16bn investment plan involves spending more than pounds 1bn on stations, including building 13 new ones, pounds 2.5bn on track work and more than pounds 2bn on signalling.

The company will have to borrow pounds 2.5bn to finance the spending plans. Sir Robert Horton, the chairman of Railtrack, said that Railtrack would be spending 20 per cent more than British Rail did in its last year of operation spanning 1993/94.

More than 1,500 miles of track will be renewed over the next 10 years as well as 3,500 miles of sleepers. The West Coast mainline - which Richard Branson's Virgin group took over this week - will get a pounds 1.5bn upgrade.

Mike Howell, Railtrack's commercial director, confirmed that the company was also in talks with Mr Branson over a further pounds 150m investment in order to cut the five-hour journey from London to Glasgow by nearly 90 minutes. There are already plans to cut the journey time by 70 minutes.

Four stations will be overhauled. London's Paddington and Waterloo stations, as well as Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central, will have more than pounds 25m spent on them. Nearly 50 stations will get cash injections of pounds 1m.

Leaves on the line will still affect railway services. Railtrack is experimenting with "Swedish scrubbers" - powerful water jets which blast debris from tracks - but will not buy a fleet of vehicles, which would cost pounds 40m, until trials have been successfully completed.

The company is also planning a large capacity freight route from the Channel Tunnel to Scotland. If realised, it could see 30 trains a day using the new service - taking more than 275,000 long-distance lorry journeys from Britain's motorways.

The investment plan comes after John Swift, the rail regulator, recently criticised Rail- track's underspend on infrastructure investment as "wholly unacceptable". Railtrack said yesterday that it did not think there would be a problem with the regulator and that all the outstanding maintenance work would be cleared by 2001.

A spokeswoman for the rail regulator said the new spending plans would be studied. "The key question is what action the company is taking and to ensure the spending results in a better railway," she said.

Labour called on the regulator to go through the spending plans with a fine-tooth comb, adding that the company's track record did not inspire confidence.

A Labour government would be committed to tighter regulation and one option under consideration would see the Treasury controlling Railtrack's income. "I think it it would be unnecessary to change the current arrangements," said Sir Robert.

Save Our Railways, an anti-privatisation lobbying group, said the plans were "very disappointing". Campaigners listed 50 examples of neglect and a spokesman said passengers had suffered "disgusting, dangerous stations as well as slow and unreliable journeys".

Railtrack's main source of income - track access charges levied on the train companies - generates more than pounds 2bn a year. With Railtrack committed to paying an average pounds 1.6bn a year for its investment plans, the spending plans will not dent the company's balance sheet.

Comment, page 19

The new railway age

Railtrack plans to spend pounds 4m on the rail network every day over the next 10 years. Important projects include:

A pounds 1.5bn modernisation of the West Coast Main Line route now run by Richard Branson's Virgin Group

The pounds 580m Thameslink 2000 project to expand and improve the north-south cross-London rail service

A pounds 220m resignalling programme on the Great Eastern route out of London's Liverpool station

Heathrow Express to get pounds 160m spent on track, signalling and electrification work for the high-speed link from London's Paddington station to open next year

pounds 140m of improvements to enable Channel Tunnel Eurostar services to run to regional destinations beyond London through to Scotland

Station renovations worth pounds 100m at Paddington, Waterloo, Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central

Modernisation of the West Anglia line including signal renewal and improved track layouts costing pounds 65m

pounds 40m on better radio communications between train drivers and signal boxes in South-east England

A pounds 40m maintenance programme for the Forth Bridge in Scotland with increased repair and painting work