Railtrack showdown looms

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The Independent Online
RAILTRACK is heading for a public showdown with John Prescott's powerful new Rail Regulator over its failure to hit targets for cutting delays to passenger and freight trains.

Gerald Corbett, the chief executive of the privatised monopoly, is resisting an "unrealistic" proposal to force it to make up the backlog in this financial year. The move will open up Railtrack to the threat of substantial fines unless it can persuade Regulator Tom Winsor, a tough Scottish lawyer, to reach a compromise.

Railtrack promised to reduce train delays for which it was to blame by 7.5 per cent a year in the two years to April 2000. But the company only achieved between 3 and 4 per cent in the 12 months to April this year.

The outgoing Regulator, Chris Bolt, has told Mr Corbett that he wants him to make the good the shortfall in this financial year. Railtrack will have to cut delays, measured in train minutes, by 15 per cent.

Mr Corbett has today written back, saying the target is unachievable and pointing out Railtrack's achievement in cutting its delays by 45 per cent since privatisation. He is expected to suggest spreading the shortfall over two years.

The Railtrack chief told The Independent: "Targets have to be realistic and not figures plucked out of the air."

Railtrack must decide whether to agree to the target, miss and be fined, or provoke a debate by refusing to accept it and being served with an enforcement notice - the first in the history of the privatised railway.

A spokesman for the Regulator's office said Mr Corbett had until Wednesday to say whether he was prepared to accept or not.