Railtrack faces increasing pressure to boost its investment programme under proposals in the Railways Bill tabled this week.
Speaking at the Bill’s launch, deputy prime minister John Prescott said that the rail regulator could force Railtrack to carry out improvements regardless of the return on investment.
Prescott highlighted track and signalling improvements on the south bank of the Thames and in Newcastle as areas where the new regulatory powers could be used.
The penalties for non compliance with performance targets agreed by the new co-ordinating Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and the rail regulator could result in fines, injunctions, third party litigation, and the loss of the franchise. Any funds raised by fines, which are technically unlimited, will be retained by the SRA for investment.
The SRA, which will oversee network development and promote use of railways aims to remove the fragmentation created by privatisation.
Although not returning government control to the level of the nationalised BR, Prescott admitted that `the buck stops with me’ and that he will be ultimate decision maker in rail disputes.