Railtrack's low morale blamed for train chaos

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Britain's biggest rail commuter company has blamed a massive increase in disruption on a slump in morale at Railtrack, amid signs that services are also deteriorating in other parts of the country.

As evidence mounts of an increasingly chaotic network in southern England, South West Trains (SWT) calculated that there had been an 80 per cent leap in the number of delays attributable to the infrastructure company this year, compared with the previous 12 months.

Andrew Haines, the managing director of the train operator, said the decision to place Railtrack into administration meant that key employees had seen their "life savings" disappear as shares held by thousands of workers were rendered worthless. He said: "If these signallers have basically had thousands of pounds stolen from them, should people be surprised at the delays?"

SWT said that even before Railtrack was declared bankrupt there had been a decline in standards. In the six months to the end of September, the infrastructure company was forced to pay out £8.2m in penalties to SWT because of a deterioration in performance. That compared with £1.9m in the same period last year.

However, a spokesman for Railtrack denied that services were worse than they were immediately after last year's Hatfield disaster. Compared with the period immediately after the crash, the proportion of delays attributable to Railtrack had decreased by about 50 per cent, he said. There were 8 per cent more delays than two years ago, the last comparable period. He said only half of delays in the southern region were attributable to the infrastructure company.

Michael Holden, the director of Railtrack's southern zone, said: "Staff I have talked to recently are dismayed by recent events, but feel in defiant mood. Like me, they are determined to do the best we can in the situation we find ourselves put in. Actually there are welcome signs at last that infrastructure performance in the southern region is improving not worsening."

A separate source at Railtrack admitted that a slump in morale had contributed to delays and cancellations, but he argued that train operating companies were anxious to "download" the blame on to Railtrack.

Connex, another major operator in southern England, refused to comment, but its services are also experiencing considerable disruption.

Theresa May, the shadow Transport Secretary, said the comments by SWT were further evidence that the Government's handling of Railtrack was proving to be a fiasco.She said passengers were paying the price for the incompetence of Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport. "It is hardly surprising that morale within Railtrack has reached rock bottom and employees are leaving in their droves. The concern now is that this exodus will result in further delays in vital maintenance work which could have safety implications."

¿ Rail safety chiefs are investigating why a passenger train went through a red signal at the weekend. The signal, outside Cannon Street station in London, was at danger while the points beyond it were in the correct position to allow the Connex South Eastern train to proceed. The incident happened on Saturday and involved the 2.20pm from Hayes in Kent, which was carrying between 50 and 100 passengers.