Audit office attacks Rail Regulator

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The Independent Online

The Rail Regulator Tom Winsor was heavily criticised yesterday by the National Audit Office for his failure to police Railtrack more effectively and improve standards on the network.

A report from the parliamentary spending watchdog said a lot still needed to be done to provide a "fully effective regulatory regime" for the railways. Sir John Bourn, the head of the NAO, said that the Office of the Rail Regulator had failed to set proper targets for Railtrack and lacked adequate information on the condition of the rail network. He also criticised the regulator for failing to make clear how it ensured that train operating companies got value for money for the £2.3bn a year they pay Railtrack in access charges.

The report says that although the condition of tracks has been deteriorating since 1994, the Rail Regulator did not oblige Railtrack to take remedial action until 1997. The proportion of track assessed as adequate is still not back at 1994 levels, while the number of broken rails is estimated to have fallen to 916 in the current year - still 20 per cent higher than the level in 1995-96.

Sir John said: "The Rail Regulator needs to overcome the difficulties experienced up to now in monitoring Railtrack's performance and setting effective incentives,"

A spokesman for the Office of the Rail Regulator described the NAO report as constructive and said lessons would be taken on board.