Railtrack faces new fiasco over 1996 timetable

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The Independent Online
Plans by Railtrack to produce new computer software for the May 1996 rail timetable are in disarray, raising fears of a repeat of the fiasco over the current timetable.

According to a senior rail planner within BR, the software was supposed to have been produced a year ago in readiness for the current timetable, but its completion was delayed and Railtrack was unable to introduce it on schedule.

The new software, is needed, according to the source, because Railtrack wants to use it for a number of other functions besides the timetable. These include monitoring the movements of every train to allow the company, which charges for track access, to bill each company accurately.

There are also issues of confidentiality involved, since rival train companies may seek to try to find out about each other's plans for additional train services.

The source told the Independent: "A lot of the problems over the timetable were caused by having to pull out of using the new system at a late stage. We have to start working on May's timetable now and they haven't a cat in hell's chance of having the new software ready in time."

An article in Computer Weekly, to be published tomorrow says there is a wider problem within the rail industry with computer software. Railtrack has been given control of the computers and software which are essential for the management of the rail network. The system covers such factors as safety and monitoring of Passenger's Charter targets, as well as track access and timetabling.

However, a number of the train companies scheduled for early privatisation are worried that this will put them at the mercy of very high costs levied by a third party over which they have no control, particularly as Railtrack has hired expensive consultants to develop much of the software.

Tony Collins of Computer Weekly said: "There is no way they can go ahead with privatisation without resolving this."

A letter from a senior Railtrack employee quoted in the article says that the current timetabling situation is in "crisis" and that the promptness and accuracy of the May 1996 timetable could be jeopardised.

He says the reason for the problem is that Railtrack "needed to have all sorts of fancy line and time charging systems on the new software, things that were naturally totally unnecessary on the unified BR software."

Last night a spokesman from Railtrack admitted the new computer system was not yet operative but said that it was normal for this type of project.