Prescott orders rail chiefs to have new timetables ready in a week

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Rail chiefs were yesterday given a week to produce a sustainable emergency timetable and a full guide to Christmas services.

Rail chiefs were yesterday given a week to produce a sustainable emergency timetable and a full guide to Christmas services.

The deadline was imposed by Tony Blair and John Prescott who registered their frustration over the unprecedented chaos caused to the network by flooding and the massive track repairs after last month's Hatfield disaster.

Following a meeting at Ten Downing Street, Mr Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister said he had insisted at a Downing Street meeting that the work should be conducted "as quickly as possible, but also as safely as possible".

Mr Prescott said the Prime Minister had stressed the need for passengers to be given more information and Railtrack had assured them more staff would be on stations and more leaflets printed.

Asked if the senior rail executives present at the session had been given a dressing-down, Mr Prescott said: "We expressed the frustration passengers feel."

A Number 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister had acknowledged managers' difficulties, but urged them to "bust a gut" to get the work done quicker.

The industry had intended to stick to emergency timetables while repairs were done, but flooding rendered them almost useless especially in northern England, Wales and the West Country.

Despite previous assurances that the work would be done before Christmas, Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, said yesterday that some maintenance may continue through Spring, especially on InterCity routes.

In a meeting later with the Shadow Strategic Railway Authority, he said 50 miles of track had been replaced but 250 miles still needed to be done.

"We think it will take up to a couple of weeks to recover from the flooding and for the signalling to dry out," he said. "We hope to have a lot of the networks back to normal by Christmas but some train operating companies may need a bit longer. As the PrimeMinister said this afternoon, the situation requires a bit of the Beaverbrook spirit, and that's how we are going to address it."

Railtrack has been told to make urgent improvements in its system of testing for broken rails, the cause of the Hatfield crash in which four died. An independent report, commissioned by the Rail Regulator and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), criticised the company's "traditional tolerance" of a high number of track defects and urged them to match the higher standards of the US and Continental countries.