Railtrack hires engineers from Romania

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Railtrack is scouring the world to make up a shortfall of 1,000 engineers and another 3,000 technical staff, the company admitted yesterday.

As evidence mounted that the Potters Bar rail crash was caused by inadequate maintenance, Railtrack disclosed that the industry was seeking skilled employees in countries as diverse as South Africa, Australia, India, Romania and the Philippines. In an interview published in Rail magazine today, David Carrier, head of engineering education at Railtrack, said: "The competence of the whole industry has eroded."

He warned, however, that attracting experts from overseas was not the long-term solution, because they would ultimately want to return to their own countries. "We must grow our own." he said.

Richard Middleton, Railtrack's technical director, conceded that since privatisation there had been a lack of consistent standards and insufficient emphasis from the company on technical competence. Most of the engineers being taken on by Railtrack were from outside the industry. Those with railway expertise were invariably taken from another rail company. The budget for such activities had also been reduced by 3 per cent every year since the industry was privatised.

Mr Middleton admitted that since the sell-off, more responsibility had been placed on contractors for maintenance of the network. In an attempt to meet the shortfall of qualified staff, future contracts awarded by Railtrack were likely to contain a requirement that the winning firm committed itself to training.

Mr Carrier said the task of the industry was likely to become more difficult because London Underground would need more skilled people as lines were rebuilt and stations refurbished.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said: "Private companies in the rail industry clearly see training as a cost rather than an investment."