Railtrack adopts policy of defying Winsor

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The Independent Online

The constant feuding between major players in the rail industry is set to plumb new depths after it emerged that Railtrack has taken a policy decision to resist all targets imposed on it by the Rail regulator, Tom Winsor.

The infrastructure company's campaign of civil disobedience was greeted with amazement by the regulator's office yesterday. "This is news to us," said a spokesman. "It simply beggars belief. It doesn't seem to be a very sensible way of running a company."

Gerald Corbett, Railtrack's chief executive, said the decision was based on legal advice. It is understood that a similar strategy has been adopted towards the Rail Inspectorate on safety issues.

It is also understood that some of the company's more hard-line directors believe that the regulator needs to be made aware that the company is not a soft touch.

Railtrack has been told by lawyers that it could leave itself open to civil action by train operators if it accepted a target imposed by the regulator and then failed to meet it.

By arguing that any objective was "tough" or "unrealistic" and by resisting it to the last possible moment, the company could then mount a credible defence against litigation if it missed the target.

Mr Winsor is known to feel considerable frustration over Railtrack's approach, which means that the time of his officials is constantly being taken up by disputes with the company.

It also means that train passengers are funding the regulator's mounting legal fees.

Railtrack has appealed against the fine levied on it for failing to meet a 12.7 per cent target for reducing train delays in the year to 31 March. The company is expecting to pay a £10m fine - £4m for each percentage point shortfall.

Mr Winsor has insisted that the company improve its performance by 5 per cent in the current financial year and make up any deficit from the previous year's target.

The firm is also facing the threat of legal action by the Regulator for failing to provide detailed information about the work to upgrade the West Coast Mainline between London and Glasgow.

Industry sources argue that while Railtrack's policy of resistance is within the law, it is against the spirit of the regulatory framework.

It is expected that the Regulator will urge ministers to "lean" on the company to change its policy and bring an end to the trench warfare.