Army engineers: 'We'll make trains run on time'

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The Independent Online

Mussolini managed to do it, now the British Army believe they can do the same - get the trains running on time.

A select group of Army engineers has offered to maintain about two-thirds of the country's trains, in the latest attempt to drag the rail network into the 21st century.

The 2,500-strong Armed Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) is more used to preparing for battle, and overhauling tanks, armoured vehicles and machine guns, but it believes its engineering skills are just as applicable on the creaking railways.

However, it might find that fixing Challenger tanks is a lot simpler than ensuring the 7.45 to Victoria arrives on time. Well-placed sources revealed that ABRO is in discussions with HSBC Rail and Angel Trains, which lease rolling stock to the much-criticised operators Virgin and Connex.

While most train delays are blamed on the track operator, Network Rail, some 45 per cent of problems are due to the train operators, which are mostly down to technical hitches with the trains. Many train operators are updating their fleets with modern rolling stock, but the average age of the carriages and engines is nearly 20 years old.

ABRO is owned entirely by the Ministry of Defence. However, it has been given special status, called a Trading Fund, to exploit new sources of profits. Last year it made a profit of £13m, after applying its engineering know-how to fixing fleets of vans for local authorities and even mending dental X-ray machines.

ABRO's engineering skills are in demand as train manufacturing in Britain is coming to an end.

Last week the locomotive maker Bombardier signalled the closure of is engineering works in Derby. The news comes just weeks after another train maker, Alstom, announced that it would close its plant in Birmingham.