Contractors are appealing to the government for less interference and greater clarity in post-Railtrack regime.
Rail contractors are in secret talks with the government over the future of the rail industry after the collapse of Railtrack.

In particular, they are urging transport minister Stephen Byers to improve maintenance contracts to make their responsibilities clearer.

The National Rail Contractors Group, which represents eight contractors, has been holding talks with DTLR officials and is scheduled to hold another meeting before Christmas. Jarvis has had separate meetings with civil servants.

Contractors complained last month that they had not been consulted over what the post-Railtrack network would look like.

The rail contractors group, whose members include Balfour Beatty, Amec and Amey, believes that boundaries between the responsibilities of the client and the contractor have been too vague and that this has led to confusion and waste.

Chairman David Cawthra said: "There is no economic or managerial sense in having two sets of organisations doing almost the same job. There has got to be less interference and greater clarity about who does what. And that does not mean that our members believe they should have a great deal more responsibility."

Cawthra said maintenance contracts ought to be linked to performance, safety and training rather than simply cost.

But he emphasised that he was putting forward these ideas in the form of suggestions, not demands. He said: "We think that there is a need for them to listen to the views of experience. We are not thumping the table and saying this is the solution – that would be arrogant. The department needs to assimilate all the views of the industry."

What we are saying is that rail maintenance is a simple business. It’s just that Railtrack messed it up

Rail contractor

One contractor said: "What we are saying to the government is that rail maintenance is a simple business. It's just that Railtrack messed it up. You know what your asset is, it doesn't move, and you have both a defined revenue stream and a programme of work. It wouldn't be difficult for us to manage things more effectively."

Cawthra said contractors would do their work better if they had a complete knowledge of the state of the rail infrastructure. He said: "If you know what the condition of the tracks is, you know what's got to be done."

Transport minister John Spellar told Building: "Contractors should be encouraged by the appointment of the Strategic Rail Authority chairman because they are no longer working under the uncertain conditions they were. The government is keen to show its commitment to Railtrack's replacement. The clear and simple message is: the work must go on."

Jarvis said this week that it was opposed to an integrated model of the railways, in which track maintenance and the running of the trains was in the hands of one organisation.

Kevin Hyde, Jarvis' chief operating officer, said: "There are many advantages in the current system; it gives everyone financial incentive to be on time and do the job properly.

"Currently we are penalised if we delay a train. When it is integrated, issues and responsibilities can be fudged."