It defies logic to reward such total failure

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Railtrack, as we all surely know, and for better of worse, is a private company. Like all private companies it belongs to its shareholders, and they are entitled to pay those who manage their enterprise as much or as little as they like, given the constraints of the marketplace and the needs of the business. That, of course, is not all there is to it, as all the various reports and studies into corporate governance, from Cadbury to Greenbury, demonstrate. There are issues of accountability and transparency to be considered, and even if the £50,000 pay rise granted to Steve Marshall, Railtrack's chief executive since last November, is within the letter of those guidelines, we wonder whether it adheres to the spirit of them.

In truth, Mr Marshall's basic salary of £450,000 is not enormous by the standards of companies the size of Railtrack. Mr Marshall has also agreed to waive his bonus and some share options (which are, in any case, worth less than they were). And there is nothing wrong with the generous rewarding of an executive who can demonstrate that he or she has improved the standing and performance of a company, with all that that implies for the prosperity of all those who work for it. That, to say the least, is not obviously the case with Railtrack and Mr Marshall.

Railtrack may be a big company, but it is patently not a very successful one, even taking into account the botched legacy of privatisation it has to deal with. Unlike most economic enterprises in this country it relies on vast subsidies from the taxpayers, amounting to about 75 per cent of its revenues. It has been badly run to the extent of compromising passenger safety, and there is talk about its executives being prosecuted in the aftermath of a series of rail accidents that have appalled the nation. We have endured the worst rail service since the war. Railtrack's share price has collapsed.

The notion of rewarding failure on such a prodigious scale defies logic as forcibly as it offends the many victims of Railtrack's incompetence. The gravy train must stop.