Railtrack chief 'canvassed colleagues on resignation'

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The Independent Online
ROBERT HORTON, chairman of Railtrack, has seriously considered resigning over criticism of his handling of the signalworkers' dispute, say internal sources.

He canvassed opinion among senior colleagues recently on whether he should remain at the company. They all told Mr Horton, a former chairman of BP, that he should stay, the sources said.

Most career railwaymen, however, argue privately that he has 'not had a good dispute' and point out that he has been kept out of the public eye lately in favour of John Ellis, Railtrack's operations director.

Mr Horton's concern over his performance - he is paid pounds 120,000 a year for three days' a week - surfaced more than a month ago. In an attempt to engender public sympathy and get union leaders back to the negotiating table, he offered to give to charity the net difference between his salary and that of Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT transport union.

Howecver, the gesture, made on Radio 4's Today programme, was seen as a 'stunt' rather an act of a man prepared to make personal sacrifices to settle the conflict. The offer, worth about pounds 44,000, was easily brushed aside by Mr Knapp as doing nothing to address his members' claim.

Negative publicity has dogged Mr Horton. The week before the strikes began - and at a critical negotiating stage - he was on holiday in France. And a lacklustre performance at the House of Commons employment committee on 5 July did nothing to enhance his reputation.

Mr Horton and other Railtrack officials feel like 'piggy in the middle': stuck between an intransigent government and a truculent union.

A spokeswoman for Railtrack said there was 'absolutely no truth' in allegations that Mr Horton was canvassing opinion about his future at Railtrack.

Signs of dissent among striking signal workers will emerge tomorrow at their annual meeting in Great Yarmouth when some delegates will echo calls from the Labour Party leadership and urge the union to go to arbitration. The meeting of RMT's signalling grades has no decision-making powers and is expected to defeat the pleas. The next strike is scheduled for next Friday.

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