Railtrack dismisses director in charge of updating network

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The Independent Online

The man in charge of the modernisation of Britain's rail network, including the west coast main line, has been dismissed.

Simon Murray, who was Railtrack's director of major projects and investment, was sacked after mounting criticism of his ability to deliver new routes on time and to budget.

As part of a radical shake-up at the beleaguered company, Steve Marshall, the chief executive, will take over day-to-day charge of the west coast line between London and Glasgow. The budget for the upgrade was originally set at £2.2bn, but the cost rose to £6.3bn and recently the company hinted that it could be substantially higher.

Richard Middleton, a main board director, will assume responsibility for the company's much-criticised relationships with contractors ­ another part of Mr Murray's brief.

A source close to the company said: "Simon was brought in to deliver the big projects, but somehow they didn't get delivered in the way that was expected." Mr Murray left BAA, the former British Airports Authority, two years ago to join Railtrack.

The company would not comment on the likely pay-off for Mr Murray, but it is expected to be slightly less than his annual salary of £175,000. A spokesman said any payment would "remain confidential" and would only be disclosed in the company's annual report.

The dismissal comes within days of a damning indictment of Railtrack delivered by the rail regulator, Tom Winsor, who told the company to put away its "begging bowl" for taxpayers' money. He said: "The company simply did not deploy ­ or did not have ­ the necessary skills to plan, manage and above all cost the work. The west coast route modernisation is the most startling example of a project which was not properly worked out."

* Two people were in hospital last night after a train crashed into a Land Rover at a level crossing.

A motorist and a bystander, who is thought to have been hit by flying debris, were injured when the passenger train, bound for Southport, Merseyside, hit the vehicle at the level crossing near Ormskirk, Lancashire, yesterday afternoon.

* Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, said he "very much doubted" the RMT rail union was justified in calling strikes over the safety role of guards, on 25 July and 4 July. Talks are continuing in an effort to avert the industrial action.