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Firms sceptical about rail cash

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SPENDING on the country's rail network must increase threefold if Railtrack is to match the massive spending plans outlined in its Network Management Statement.

The 450-page plan says that £52 billion, nearly double last year's NMS figure of £27 billion, will need to be spent over the next 12 years - or £4.3 billion a year - to bring the network up to scratch.

But at current spending levels it would take 36 years for this to be realised. In 1998/99, Railtrack spent £1.45 billion on the network and this figure is expected to rise only by up to £500 million when Railtrack publishes its latest results in June.

Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett admitted the plans were a 'wish list'. He said: 'The £52 billion is the total menu to choose from and it includes maintenance and renewal. This programme is huge but it will not overstretch the industry supply base.'

A Railtrack spokeswoman repeated the company's claims that it could not afford to fund the massive spending plans by itself.

In July, rail regulator Tom Winsor will publish his report into how much Railtrack can charge train operating companies for using its track.

Meanwhile, Civil Engineering Contractors Association chairman Martin Hirst called on the government to dig deep in to its own pockets.

He said: 'The massive figurerequired by Railtrack for its infrastructure spend should be considered by government and public alike.'

Contractors gave the news a guarded welcome.

'A lot of work may come out of this but I think we will be lucky to see just half of it,' claimed one.

Another said: 'The reality is that there are miles between the wish list and what will actually be spent.'