Railtrack chief under fresh pressure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Train passengers will continue to face major nationwide disruption this week through Britain's biggest ever rail repair operation, which is now expected to take up to two months longer than Railtrack's estimate.

Train passengers will continue to face major nationwide disruption this week through Britain's biggest ever rail repair operation, which is now expected to take up to two months longer than Railtrack's estimate.

Senior Whitehall sources made it clear that the Government had no confidence in Gerald Corbett, chief executive of the infrastructure company, blaming him for the backlog of safety work which yesterday resulted in delays to services of more than two hours.

The chaos - which could be prolonged by bad weather conditions - could put an end to the massive growth in the number of passengers using the rail system, according to industry sources. They pointed out that roads at the weekend were already experiencing more congestion as people abandoned trains in favour of their cars.

Worst disruption this week is expected on high-speed routes such as those operated by First Great Western, Virgin, Midland Mainline, Anglia and Great North Eastern Railways, the company involved in the crash 13 days ago at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, in which four people died.

At the weekend more than 20,000 maintenance staff were working on repairs relaying 25 miles of track where there was a risk that a rail might break - the cause of the derailment at Hatfield.

Railtrack could still be battling to get the system back to normal in February, according to an internal document obtained by The Independent. While the company yesterday estimated that the work would be finished by the week before Christmas, the internal paper shows that Great Eastern's London-Ipswich route and Anglia Railways' London-Norwich line may have to operate an emergency timetable for another four months.

Visiting the site of the Hatfield rail crash yesterday, Mr Corbett insisted the network had "turned the corner" after a blitz of weekend work. "It has severely affected passengers for which we truly apologise. It has been a dreadful week for passengers but they can rest assured that the railway is safe. When the rail network opens tomorrow morning, the service will be better than the one Railtrack was able to provide on Thursday and Friday last week."

Senior Whitehall sources denied there would be any immediate call from ministers for the resignation of Mr Corbett. However, they made it clear he had lost the support of the Government and indicated that he might have to go after the immediate crisis is over.

"You may have noticed that he has received no ringing endorsements," the sources pointed out. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, did not want a "hiatus" during which the company sought another chief executive.

Comments