Railtrack chairman's Watford Awayday hits the buffers

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The Independent Online
BOB HORTON never got to Watford yesterday, although thousands of rail passengers who had not intended to ended up on the platforms there.

Mr Horton, chairman of Railtrack, was fortunate that the Tube train accident which caused chaos for travellers from Euston yesterday did not save itself for Friday, which is when his organisation takes on responsibility for British Rail's track and infrastructure. He had no doubt about who would be held responsible by the public: 'Railtrack and privatisation are going to get blamed for everything that goes wrong. At least I'm not as well known as Sir Bob Reid (the British Rail chairman).'

'You will be', the railway manager next to him said.

On his tour of Euston station yesterday Mr Horton was warmly welcomed by staff. In his year as chairman of Railtrack the former BP chairman has belied a reputation for abrasiveness by spending a day a week touring the railway system.

Yesterday's mishap was the sort of thing which can happen to any railway. A Tube train being shunted in sidings at Harrow hit the buffers and damaged electric power lines, forcing British Rail trains to crawl through the area. Inside the control room at Euston Mr Horton kept asking when announcements had been made on delays: 'Communicate, communicate, that's what we've got to do.'

Local trains were being turned round at Watford Junction and only a few InterCity services were getting through. 'It's the worst day for two years,' said one of the controllers.

Railtrack will take on 12,500 former British Rail employees on Friday, three-quarters of whom are signals staff. Much maintenance and engineering work will be contracted out to 30,000 staff who are joining a new unit called BR Infrastructure Services. From now on everything has to be paid for; literally thousands of services are contracted out between organisations.

Mr Horton grinned when he saw a poster in the crew quarters' window which read: 'Privatisation is no solution.' In the manager's office, the talk was of commercial opportunities.

Railtrack remains for the time being a nationalised concern, but Mr Horton is anxious to see it privatised much faster than the Government's original plans, possibly as early as the beginning of 1996, because he wants to free it of Treasury shackles.

The Railtrack staff at Euston all forecast 'a seamless transition' on Friday. But, just in case there is another day of chaos, Mr Horton has cancelled a planned business trip to be on hand if needed.