Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Railtrack PLC

1.  Steps taken by Railtrack or its predecessors over the past decade to warn British Steel/Corus of its preference for longer rolled rail lengths over welded short lengths.

  An April 1992 British Rail memorandum to the BR Procurement Committee outlined BR's objective to move to longer lengths of welded rail: "BR presently obtains steel rail in 120 ft. lengths and in the long term the objective of the businesses is to move to 300 ft. lengths." The memo also speaks of preliminary discussions with British Steel and Voest Alpine on a cost reduction programme, options for which included optimising rail length and rail length and delivery.

  The minutes of the BR Procurement Committee from April 1992 stated that BR was in discussions with rail suppliers "with a view to the early introduction of supplies of 300 ft. rails to meet the InterCity Business aspirations of reducing the number of welds in the track (ie 1 weld in every 600 ft. length)."

  In the minutes of a BR Procurement committee, from August 1992, the Chairman of the Committee asked that the contract with British Steel include provision for clear and measurable milestone targets to reduce the incidence of production of short length rails.

  In a British Steel Track Products document of June 1997, to Railtrack, under the title of "future initiatives", it outlines: "In addition to the refocusing of the rail supply process, it is envisaged that, building upon the partnership approach, the Rail Facilities Management will be instrumental in the development of positive beneficial initiatives such as:

    —  longer length rail supply."

  From October 1996 document from British Steel Track products, it states:

  "New Long Welded Rail—lengths in excess of 182.88 metres

  1.  British Steel Track Products currently has the capability of manufacturing Long Welded Rail up to 220 metres in length at our Workington facility.

  3.  as Railtrack is aware, we also have the opportunity to increase string length over and above the current 220 metre maximum and therefore generate additional benefits to Railtrack."

  nb: longer length rails would only be achieved by welding extra short rail lengths and not via Railtrack's preferred option of providing longer unwelded lengths.

  The upgrade of the Castleton plant was a condition imposed by Railtrack during the award of the latest rail supply contract to ensure that the Corus welding plant could meet Railtrack's demand for 216 metre rail lengths, there are no similar plans to modify the Workington welding plant.

2.  Steps taken by British Steel/Corus of which Railtrack is aware to persuade Railtrack to stick with welded lengths of short rail, for example through quality improvement programmes.

  Corus have made no offer of additional quality improvement programmes to those contained in the original contract documents but they have offered discounted rail rates if Railtrack continue with the utilisation of short rail lenghts.

  With the exception of Corus, Railtrack's main rail suppliers have responded to the increased need for long rolled lengths by offering rail in lengths of 108 and 120 metres but the Corus maximum length offered is 72 metres, ex-France.

January 2001

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