MPs give Railtrack a rough ride

14 Dec 00
A cross-party committee of MPs has slammed Railtrack's management of the rail network and castigated its 'totally inadequate' supervision of safety procedures in a damning report published on December 13.

15 December 2000

The Commons environment, transport and regional affairs committee expressed its concern at the company's widespread hiring of engineering firms to maintain track and perform safety checks.

Members said it was 'hard to understand' why the extensive programme of emergency repairs, introduced after the Hatfield train crash in October, was necessary if the previous maintenance arrangements had been adequate. They concluded: '(It) reflects the fact that Railtrack is not confident that its management of maintenance contractors… had been adequate or effective.'

The committee also sounded a warning on the future of the company's new maintenance regime. 'We are concerned that Railtrack has failed to ensure that the culture of safety now espoused by its senior management is always shared by its contractors.'

The MPs accused the company of losing sight of its responsibility 'to run a safe and efficient railway'. They said the recent crises in railway safety and the resulting loss of public confidence were not just the result of unforeseen events. '(They) are indicative of systematic, often-repeated failings in the company's management systems and leadership.'

Members said the resignation of former Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett and a 'cosmetic' board reshuffle were not enough to change the management structures, and demanded root-and-branch reform.

Committee chair Gwyneth Dunwoody, speaking at the launch of the MPs' report into recent events on the railways, said the Railtrack board members' lack of experience of working in the rail industry was another contributing factor to the company's poor performance.

'The reality for many people travelling today is one of delay, of discomfort and certainly worry, and we do not think that is acceptable,' she said.

But a Railtrack spokeswoman said the firm was already rectifying many of the problems identified in the committee's report. 'We are going to develop and invest in the engineering area and are currently reviewing the best way to carry out maintenance in light of the lessons of Hatfield. That review will play a fundamental role in the company's future.'


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