Fears over rail track work delay

By Mark HeathRAIL watchdogs have criticised an announcement that some track replacement work will be put off for up to two years in an attempt to save money.

By Mark Heath

RAIL watchdogs have criticised an announcement that some track replacement work will be put off for up to two years in an attempt to save money.

Network Rail announced the move yesterday as part of a plan to slash £5billion from its spending programme for the next five years.

Its chief executive, John Armit, said: “The cost proposals represent value for money and demonstrate Network Rail's commitment to efficiency and affordability on the railway.”

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The company said it still expected to meet its March 2009 target of raising the current trains-on-time figure of 82% to 90%.

But rail watchdogs fear the decision will lead to greater delays across the network as speed restrictions are enforced on lines that need replacing.

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Graeme Clark, deputy secretary of the rail passengers committee in Eastern England, said: “I think there's no doubt that greater efficiency and value for money can and should be achieved by Network Rail.

“Costs have spiralled and they need to be brought under control. That said, we will not accept routes being allowed to decline to such an extent as to result in closure or unacceptable time penalties.”

He added: “We believe that what could happen is the amount and level of temporary speed restrictions which may be imposed will be such that it will have a massive impact on journeys.

“It's going to make trains later and, therefore, will have a knock-on effect on other routes as well.

“The safety element is an issue, but my gut reaction is that Network Rail will be bound to carry out any vital safety work immediately.”

Graham Male, chairman of the Colchester Rail Users' Association, shared Mr Clark's concerns about the possible impact on the length of rail trips.

“We are confident safety will not be compromised, but to ensure that it is not, it implies speed restrictions will be enforced which would slow services - that would be our concern,” he said.

“We will be interested to learn which, if any, parts of our line will be affected by this.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, said the cuts were the “thin end of the wedge” for rural railways.

“You cannot create efficiency by replacing planned maintenance with planned neglect. Efficiency is in everyone's interests, but Network Rail is looking under the wrong stone for it,” he added.

“Billions are being siphoned out of the railway industry by the private sector and the cost of maintenance has soared since the privateers got their hands on it.

“Network Rail can deliver greater efficiency by bringing maintenance back in-house, not by cutting back on maintenance on rural lines.”


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