Railtrack pledges to invest billions

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The Independent Online
THE RAIL industry is to pour billions of pounds of investment into Britain's failing railway network to try to avoid sanctions from the Government and the regulator.

Railtrack is drawing up a "hit list" of congestion blackspots that need immediate improvement to cope with the big growth in rail travel. The Government is angry with Railtrack for saying that the only way to improve the poor levels of punctuality is to cut the number of trains being run.

The company is also under fire from the regulator, Chris Bolt, who has threatened to cap its profits - slashing them by pounds 100m - unless it comes up with innovative ways to increase investment. Railtrack will use its annual network management statement next month to announce it is committing itself to a number of projects.

The company last year outlined a pounds 16bn 10-year investment programme but was criticised for giving firm commitments on just three projects - the West Coast main line to Glasgow, Thameslink 2000 and Leeds station. An industry insider said: "People expect to see cast-iron commitments to solve some of the others. It will contain innovative ways of resolving pinch points without involving loads of money."

In last year's Transport White Paper the Government highlighted 15 pinch points of which only six come under Railtrack's current commitments. Outstanding projects include the upgrade of the East Coast main line to Edinburgh and the Great Western line to Bristol. A Railtrack spokesman said: "The network management statement will be used to respond to some of the regulator's concerns."

Railtrack is worried the industry cannot meet the Government's target of a 15 per cent increase in passengers without risking a further fall in punctuality. It points out that each 1 per cent increase in numbers has led to a 2.5 per cent increase in delays. This year will see the first halt in the growth of train services since privatisation as train companies concentrate on running the existing network. One has announced plans to cut services.

This summer's timetable will reveal little change from a year ago - in sharp contrast with the first two years of privatisation which saw the 25 train companies put on an extra 200,000 services and carry 14 per cent more passengers.

Last winter's timetable saw 115,000 new services, 50,000 for summer 1998 and 29,000 for winter 1997. Now, Chiltern Railways is to cut 3 per cent of its peak service.

Wales & West is cutting the number of daily services on the Barnstaple to Exeter line from 22 to 18 and is consulting local authorities in West Wales.