Row over 'secret expenses' paid to Railtrack directors

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RAILTRACK, which is in dispute with its signal staff, ran into fresh controversy yesterday after it was revealed that part-time directors get pounds 500 for attending each board meeting on top of a pounds 10,000 salary.

Frank Dobson, Labour's transport spokesman, demanded to know what other 'secret expenses' and fringe benefits were on offer to senior Railtrack figures following the revelations about 'attendance' money in a Commons written answer from Roger Freeman, Minister of State for Public Transport. He also revealed that a bonus scheme was being drawn up for senior managers.

At the heart of the month-long dispute with 4,600 signal staff is the company's attempt to abolish 'Spanish practices' and additional allowances. The strikers plan their fifth and sixth stoppages on succeeding Wednesdays and and are threatening to hold two 24-hour strikes a week thereafter.

The Independent has attempted to find out the total package of benefits enjoyed by Robert Horton, Railtrack's chairman, but the company will reveal only that he is paid pounds 121,800 for a three-day week.

It is not known how much Mr Horton, who received a pounds 1.5m severance package from BP, would be paid if he was forced to leave Railtrack. Other full-time directors of the company, which is owned by the state and runs the railway infrastructure, also earn six-figure salaries.

Yesterday, Mr Horton met John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, at the Department of Transport in London. He denied that he had received fresh instructions from the ministers on the dispute.

Despite Mr MacGregor's comments on Wednesday that they were 'unlikely' to talk about the campaign of industrial action, the Railtrack chairman delivered a report on the dispute to the Secretary of State. Afterwards, Mr Horton said he hoped that disruption would end soon, but he had 'no idea' how long it would last.

While both sides of the dispute will settle for some form of 'up front' payment in return for productivity measures, they agree that the final package would have to be concluded before 1 October.

On that date, the old British Rail pension fund will be divided between the new constituent companies. Unless there is agreement over additions to basic pensionable wages, signal workers stand to lose between pounds 30m and pounds 50m.

Informal contact between management and union officials has begun within the last week. While in public there seems to be no meeting of minds, privately they are edging towards a peace formula. However, any deal will have to be backed by a government anxious to preserve its public sector pay policy.