Contractors and engineers ordered to declare all safety risks in aftermath of Hatfield tragedy
Railtrack this week ordered contractors and engineers to report all outstanding safety issues on lines by today in an urgent clampdown on safety.

In a letter written on Monday, senior Railtrack director Les Mosco warned infrastructure maintenance contractors that he wanted lists of the critical areas, with details of when they would be repaired.

But the Association of Consulting Engineers has warned that this is unrealistic and has told members that the demand may breach contractual agreements with Railtrack. The ACE is particularly concerned over Railtrack's demand that each company confirm that its "management processes and implementation are adequate". Engineers have been warned that this may constitute an absolute guarantee, which exceeds contractual obligations.

The safety crackdown came as Railtrack accelerated its review of its track renewal and maintenance programme, and shortly before a key meeting of the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority last Wednesday.

The main proposal in the review is to have fewer and larger contracts, so contractors can fund investments in innovations.

Railtrack's director of network development, Robin Gisby, said if maintenance and renewal work were bundled, it would give contractors more funds to invest in efficiency.

For instance, last year Jarvis spent £10m on a track-laying machine for the £350m upgrade of the West Coast Main Line.

Gisby said: "You will see us in some cases signing fewer, larger contracts to fund innovations."

One consulting engineer responded sceptically. "Fewer and larger contracts have been talked about since last year, but they bring their own safety problems.

"If contracts are larger, companies have to ensure management is adequate, as they are more difficult to control. I think Railtrack should go back and rethink that."

The demarcation between track renewal and maintenance will also be reviewed, with some low-grade renewal likely to be incorporated into maintenance contracts in some areas. This has already been set in motion with new IMC2000 maintenance contracts.

Railtrack's action comes in the wake of the accident at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, on 17 October in which four people died and scores were injured.

Since the accident, track maintenance contractor Balfour Beatty has been criticised for its standards of workmanship. An internal audit by senior staff at the firm's York rail maintenance headquarters, which was leaked to the Mail on Sunday, raised a number of concerns. These ranged from a failure to maintain, or adequately store, safety records to having no record of subcontractors' competence.

Balfour Beatty said in a statement: "The Mail on Sunday reported a catalogue of failures citing an internal document. This document is a six-monthly report in which all variations from strict management system processes, however minor, are recorded.

"This document has been reviewed by Balfour Beatty subsequent to its publication in the media and all items have been attended to or are in the process of being attended to according to agreed timescales and management process."

A letter obtained by the BBC's Look North claimed that Railtrack wrote to Balfour Beatty two weeks ago criticising the quality of work on the Leeds Terminal project.

In a statement, Balfour Beatty said the letter was similar to a number of letters sent to other contractors about minimising trackside litter. The statement added that Railtrack was delighted with the excellent progress on the Leeds project.