Railtrack concedes huge rise in cost of upgrades

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The Independent Online
THE BELEAGUERED chief executive of Railtrack yesterday admitted that the industry was "unmanageable" as he announced that work on the West Coast main line would cost a massive two-and-a-half times more than original estimates.

Revealing that the cost of upgrading one of the two key London-Scotland lines had leapt to pounds 5.8bn, Gerald Corbett conceded that rail companies were "all pulling in different directions". He admitted that under the present rules governing the network, there was a fundamental conflict between providing a public service and satisfying investors.

His astonishing admissions will add to speculation in the industry that he might be forced to step aside from his high-pressure post. It is understood that the jobs of some senior executives responsible for the West Coast project may come under more immediate threat.

Asked if pounds 5.8bn was the final figure, he said the company would try to deliver it for less, but that it might also be an underestimate. He was 80 per cent sure that it was accurate. He left open the prospect that taxpayers and passengers would eventually foot much of the bill. But a senior source at the Rail Regulator's office declared his scepticism about the company's estimates: "We've said that Railtrack needs to give us better information, and that still applies," he said.

Controversially, there was no hint of the massive cost increase in Railtrack's annual network management statement delivered to the Rail Regulator in the spring.

The company says most of the extra costs arises out of the abandonment of a state-of-the-art system which obviates the need for signals.