Engineering Council and MP launch attack on Railtrack

The Engineering Council has joined with Tory MP Michael Fabricant to launch an attack on Railtrack, while freight carriers are demanding compensation.

The Engineering Council has joined with Tory MP Michael Fabricant to launch an attack on Railtrack over the lack of engineers on its board of directors.

In a joint statement issued on Monday, they called for more engineers to be appointed to the Railtrack board, arguing technical proficiency was necess-ary for the company to reverse the considerable problems the railway network operator is now facing.

Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, is one of only seven MPs who are professional engineers. He said: ‘It is a sad indictment of Railtrack that less than a third of its directors are engineers when Railtrack is essentially an engineering company.’

Only four of the Railtrack’s 13 board directors have any engineering qualifications, and one of those is a non-executive director, Fabricant said.

In a rare public statement on the management of a private company, Malcolm Shirley, director general of the Engineering Council said: ‘Railtrack’s decision-taking can only be strengthened by shifting the balance back in the direction of professional engineers who understand how to maintain and operate the system.’

A Railtrack spokesman said there were more engineers on the board than accountants, and that it needed a broad-based board to satisfy the needs of shareholders as well as providing a focus for operating a safe railway infrastructure.

However, Railtrack this week reported it had appointed Richard Middleton, who has 24 years experience in the railway industry, to a new board position of technical director. Two other non-board engineering positions were also created — chief engineer, responsible for dealing with track contractors, and non-executive director of asset maintenance.

Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, is continuing to have meetings with operations director Christopher Leah, and Railtrack’s new chief executive, former finance director Steven Marshall to discuss rail maintenance, performance, reliability and punctuality.

An sSRA spokeswoman would not comment on whether Railtrack should increase the number of engineers on its board.

…as UK’s two biggest rail freight operators demand compensation

delays, diversions and cancellations are plaguing industrial rail freight consignments in the wake of the Hatfield disaster, claim rail users who are seeking compensation from Railtrack for the chaos.

In the week following the Hatfield crash Railtrack forced the cancellation of 400 freight trains and has continued to delay or cancel large numbers of services operated by the two dominant rail freight companies, English Welsh & Scottish Railway and Freightliner. Both the east coast and west coast main lines have been badly hit as have international services using the channel tunnel.

Graham Smith, marketing director of EWS, said: ‘Every one of our shipments is time sensitive. The impact on our business has been massive.’

Bob Goundry, director of strategy at Freightliner, said: ‘Railtrack shut down the whole Scottish network with two hours notice the week after Hatfield. We think that blanket speed restrictions have been unnecessary.’

Labour peer Lord Tony Berkeley, chairman of rail users’ lobby the Rail Freight Group, said: ‘What has been so damaging is the uncertainty. Railtrack does not seem to know which piece of track it will close next.’

The two freight companies are looking for an undisclosed sum in compensation.