Does Network Rail's decision to take two more rail contracts under its control signify creeping renationalisation?
The announcement that Network Rail is to resume control of track maintenance in two more regions could not have come at a worse time for Amey.

The support services company this week reported pre-tax losses of £129.5m in 2002. It also announced that it would be focusing on winning more transport work just as Network Rail said it was taking more rail contracts back in-house.

Network Rail's move suggests that Amey can't take any of its rail contracts for granted. The not-for-profit company had already announced back in January that it would takeover Amey's £50m-a-year Reading contract.

This week Network Rail said that two more rail areas would be put under its direct control: Serco's £48m-a-year contract for the East Midlands line and Balfour Beatty's £80m-a-year contract for the Wessex area.

The City was alarmed by the news: shares in Balfour Beatty fell by 3%, in Serco by more than 5%, and in Jarvis shares by 5%. Jarvis incidentally earns 55% of its profits from Network Rail contracts.

Amey's shares were unaffected by Network Rail's move because the City was relieved that the company's results did not contain any more unexpected bad news.

There had been more gloom for Amey earlier this month when it announced that it would be cutting another 250 jobs in addition to the 300 that went from the 8,500-strong workforce in 2002.

Amey and the other rail maintenance contractors will be worried that Network Rail may decide to take more contracts away from them in the future.

John Armitt, Network Rail's chief executive, doesn't rule it out. He says that by taking these contracts in house Network Rail will have a better understanding of why maintenance costs are rising in the industry. Armitt is determined to reduce Network Rail's costs: it is currently overspending by £2bn a year.

The City believes the move will also knock investors' confidence in maintenance companies, as they will worry what moves the not-for-profit Network Rail will make against rail firms in the future.

Contractors in the meantime will be hoping for at least a period of stability while Armitt works out what to do next.