Threat to Railtrack over service failures

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THE RAIL Regulator, Tom Winsor, will take the unprecedented step today of ordering changes to the operating licence of Railtrack, the rail infrastructure company, to crack down on the failure of rail services.

In his review of Railtrack five years after its privatisation, Mr Winsor will make clear he has lost patience with the company's continued promises of improvements in its services. He will say that the nation's rail assets have got worse since privatisation.

Railtrack has been attacked in a series of reports on performance failures, including not delivering an agreed pounds 2.2bn upgrade of the main west coast line. The Government believes the company is now improving services, but Mr Winsor is taking action to write public service commitments into its licence for the first time. Mr Winsor will also confirm the imposition of a pounds 40m fine for allowing the state of Britain's rail tracks to decline since privatisation. The action is intended to raise performance, rather than penalise the company, which can avoid paying the fine if it improves standards, an industry source said.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is backing the action to change Railtrack's licence to enforce standards.

The source added: "We are getting a company that works in the private sector to keep absolutely in line with its public service obligations. That is the way that gas is generated and electricity is produced."

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