Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Company, Same Old Problems on the Railways

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Company, Same Old Problems on the Railways

Article excerpt

Byline: ANTHONY HILTON

IT WAS inevitable that early reaction to the Government's financial rescue of the railways should focus on how it was quite at odds with previous policy. It is relevant to ask now what there is in the new structure that will prevent the same old mistakes coming round again.

The Government's solution to all the problems is that Network Rail is a not-for-profit company, but that will be as much a hindrance as a help. It was not an obsession with profits that sank Railtrack - if only it were that simple. Rather it was a shortage of front line experienced and competent middle management and of top executives who could grapple with the complexity of the business.

In addition it was the total muddle over Railtrack's objectives coupled with a continued uncertainty about how much things would cost and where the money would come form. Finally, it was the bizarre way the businesses was separated into track and rail and kicked from pillar to post by Government, health and safety, the regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority. Railtrack had shortcomings in skills, management, funds and structure.

These issues have not gone away and will be with us long after Stephen Byers has been fired as Transport Secretary because Network Rail is simply the inheritor of the old Railtrack with a new team at the wheel and different headed notepaper.

Will regulator Tom Winsor continue to wreak his unique brand of havoc with the company's finances? Where will the company find the management in depth it needs? How will the business be focused and have clear objectives when the board will be packed with representatives of every conceivable interest group all bent on self-promotion? And how long before the Government starts to meddle again?

These issues can be resolved but only if Government remains committed and the new company is given time, money and support. …

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