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Regulator takes hard line on Railtrack performance targets

Railtrack was under the cosh from the industry's regulator Tom Winsor yet again yesterday when the infrastructure company was issued with new performance targets.

While the company had suggested that it should aim to reduce train delays attributable to it by 5 per cent in the next financial year, Mr Winsor said that it should also make up any shortfall on current objectives.

The group is meant to achieve a target of 12.7 per cent in the year to the end of this month, which includes a 5.2 per cent undershoot from the previous year. Mr Winsor said the company had worked hard to meet the 12.7 per cent objective and was "doing well". Railtrack said last night that it expected to achieve a 9 to 10 per cent improvement, which would mean a financial penalty of around £10m.

The regulator said the 2000/01 target had been recommended by experts and independent consultants and was "fair and achievable". Railtrack shares closed 16p down at 602p.

He warned Railtrack to take the new objective as seriously as it had taken the current one and expressed his hope that for 2001/02 onwards he would be able to rely on improved contractual incentives rather than enforceable targets. Next month, he will be publishing his provisional conclusions on a new framework of incentives. Mr Winsor said he expected to impose a £2m per percentage point penalty for any shortfall by Railtrack in 2000/01, but added that this figure could go up to £4m.

One industry source compared the tough approach of the regulator with the allegedly more liberal attitude of the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority (SSRA). "If only the SSRA enforced the train companies' agreements with anything like the same vigour, passengers would not have to suffer the poor service and cancellations they do at present."

Railtrack said the regulator's statement meant it had to meet an improvement target of 8 to 9 per cent which was "a huge task".