Railtrack cash `waste' storm

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The Independent Online
RAILTRACK was at the centre of a new storm last night after leaked documents revealed extravagance, waste and mismanagement in its Major Projects Division. Labour called for the privatisation of the firm to be suspended after Railtrack admitted some working practices in the department had been "unacceptable".

The irregularities were thrown up in a review completed two years ago. The documents, reported in today's Mail on Sunday, showed that hire cars budgeted by Railtrack at pounds 53,209 actually cost pounds 407,449. Spending on mobile phones should have amounted to pounds 82,000 but in fact totalled pounds 332,183.

The documents also show the division failed to provide sufficient documentation to allow the company to make correct tax claims. And they show that 108 projects costed at pounds 930m two years ago would now cost pounds 1.3bn - 40 per cent more.

In a statement last night Railtrack admitted that the reviews, completed in late 1994, had found "that there were various practices, procedures and systems which were unacceptable".

Sir Christopher Foster, chairman of the company's audit committee, said changes had been made. "We had to sort it out quickly and we did. Railtrack now operates a totally professional code of practice throughout all its departments".

Labour's rail spokesman, Brian Wilson, said: "This is a dossier of shame which confirms that Railtrack is an unfit and irresponsible organisation, which can most generously be described as incompetent on all fronts."