Hatfield rail contractor attacks Government over track upgrades

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The Independent Online

Balfour Beatty yesterday called on the Government and the Strategic Rail Authority to come up with the will and the money to restart enhancement work on the rail network.

The engineering and construction group's chief executive, Mike Welton, said the Government "must find a way" to finance improvements to the country's railways. Since Railtrack was taken back into public control,projects to enhance the track infrastructure have been starved of money. The SRA has been investigating how "special purpose vehicles" can be used to allow Private Finance Initiative-style projects, but no solution has been found so far. Maintenance work has continued.

Mr Welton said: "The infrastructure needs money spent on it. The demise of things like Thameslink 2000 [enhancement project] is not good for the travelling public.... [The Government] has to decide, do they want to spend the money?"

A spokesman for the SRA insisted that enhancement work was being carried out on the railways. However, he seemed confused about whether private sector money was involved.

"We're developing [the model]. It's not just a piece of paper," he said.

Balfour Beatty, which is facing manslaughter charges over the Hatfield rail crash, announced a 29 per cent jump in post-tax earnings and an 11 per cent hike in the dividend pay-out to shareholders, for the first half of the year.

Mr Welton defended the results. Balfour Beatty had the contract to maintain the tracks at Hatfield.

"We are a company and as such it is our job to safeguard our workforce and the people we come in contact with. But we are also there to make a profit," he said.