Prescott praises Railtrack, despite delays

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has praised Railtrack's Christmas engineering work which has seen more than 80 speed limits removed or eased.

But Railtrack admitted that holiday period work on two big re-signalling projects - planned long before the Hatfield crash - had not been completed.

The late running of the projects, at Willesden in north west London and at Leeds, caused delays to West Coast and East Coast mainline services.

Virgin Trains had to cancel 16 services on its West Coast route while East Coast operator GNER was forced to run buses for passengers travelling between Wakefield and Leeds.

Mr Prescott today visited Railtrack's headquarters in London to meet company board members and see how the Christmas engineering work had gone.

He emerged to say: "I'm delighted to see that Railtrack has exceeded its target and has replaced 40 miles of track having planned to do 30 miles."

He went on: "I want to say thanks to all those people who have worked extremely hard in the most difficult of circumstances."

Mr Prescott added that the rail industry was now on target to meet its commitment of restoring 85% of services by the end of January and to have all services back to normal by Easter.

Railtrack said earlier today that bad weather and technical difficulties had caused the overrun of the Willesden and Leeds work.

After Mr Prescott's visit, Railtrack Chief Executive Steve Marshall said: "We recognise there have been some problems and that Leeds and Willesden are not completely finished, but the Christmas and new year engineering work generally has gone extremely well."

Around 8,000 workers spent Christmas and the new year at more than 60 locations around the country - rerailing and replacing points.

Railtrack said more speed limits would be eased in the coming days and that travellers could rely on faster and more reliable journeys when new timetables on affected lines come in on January 8 and 15.

Mr Marshall said: "Many people have been working around the clock over Christmas and the new year to make sure that rail services improve.

"Everyone at Railtrack knows no effort can be spared until the network is fully restored."

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