Contractor Alfred McAlpine and rail signalling specialist Adtranz have teamed up to take on the "big six" in the £650m rail maintenance market.

McAlpine aims to win one of the Railtrack rail maintenance contracts that went to six rival firms after the privatisation of British Rail, as these are now coming up for renewal.

After privatisation, British Rail's maintenance businesses were sold to Balfour Beatty, Jarvis, Amey, GTRM, Amec and First Engineering.

The new company, Adtranz Alfred McAlpine Rail Engineering, has asked to be included on Railtrack's tender list for the next tranche of contracts, which will be tendered in the spring.

Alfred McAlpine Civil Engineering managing director Ian Grice said: "It's been very difficult to break into this market because of the six incumbents' British Rail background. We've been trying it separately for a while and decided to join up to give us a better chance of success." Grice believes Adtranz's pedigree as a manufacturer of rail signalling systems will add to the business' appeal. Adtranz is owned by German-US giant DaimlerChrysler.

The company is a 50:50 joint venture, with the start-up costs and profit split down the middle.

Adtranz president Kenny Laird said Adtranz Alfred McAlpine was looking at the possibility of offering Railtrack private finance initiative-type deals to finance, build, install and maintain new systems in return for rental payments.

Laird said: "We would put the capital in, we would put the kit in, and the cost of it would be recovered over time based on train performance." Railtrack contracting and supply director David Meek welcomed the new competitor to the six incumbents. "At the moment, supply costs are too high. We need innovation." Meek added that there would be a change in maintenance firms. "I can confirm that we are committed to bringing in at least another two maintenance contractors," he said.