Railtrack plans major shake-up

Damning report into signalling failure provides further evidence of internal problems
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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

Railtrack is planning a reorganisation of its structure, following a series of reports that have criticised its internal structures.

The latest leak of a report into a series of failures on a signalling project in Scotland, reveals how during testing of the work 10 signals were in the wrong phase, allowing trains to pass instead of stopping them.

Although this occurred during testing - between October last year and March this year - and no passengers were put at risk, the shoddy workmanship led to the inquiry into the pounds 2.5m scheme and a 500-page report was produced. Work on the scheme was held up while the inquiry took place and will not now be completed until the end of the year, nearly a year late.

The faulty wiring was said by the report to have been a result of failure to follow key recommendations of the inquiry into the Clapham rail disaster, which itself was caused by faulty wiring. A Railtrack spokeswoman said yesterday: "These mistakes were a result of the lack of clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of people working on the project. We are acting on the report's recommendations."

One senior official, regional movements manager George Wallace, told the inquiry "he had never seen such bad workmanship in his entire career".

A leak last week of an inquiry into an incident at Hitchin, Hertfordshire, outlined a similar lack of clarity over who was responsible for various safety aspects of the project.

The Scottish project, which was on the line north of Glasgow to Stirling and Perth, got into trouble because responsibility was shifted between three organisations. First, a BR subsidiary, Signalling Control UK, was in charge of design, installation and testing. But when costs started mounting from the original estimate of pounds 1.74m to pounds 3.09m, another BR company took over the work.

Railtrack's major projects division was supposed to be in overall control, but the result of having three organisations involved was confusion. One engineer said: "There seemed to be too many people running the job at various times."

The report stresses that the lessons from past disaster inquiries must be learnt and that "competence levels must be retained by special recruitment and training where necessary".

Railtrack, which was created in April 1994 when it was separated from British Rail in preparation for privatisation, has already been restructured once - when some of its zonal boundaries were changed earlier this summer - and it now faces the reorganisation of its major projects division which is responsible for all large-scale refurbishment schemes.

Two engineering divisions which had been separate, "causing confusion about responsibilities", are to be merged under one boss, Brian Mellitt, Railtrack's director of engineering and production, who has recently joined the organisation from London Transport.

The continuing changes and apparent turmoil within the organisation raise doubts about its readiness for privatisation - scheduled for early next year.