ONE OF the seven companies that until recently held 20 area contracts to maintain track, structures, signalling and electrification on Britain’s national network announced on October 10 that it was pulling out.

Jarvis Chairman Paris Moayedi had informed Network Rail Chief Executive John Armitt at a meeting four days earlier that the company wished to be released from the three contracts that it holds, which were due to expire in May 2005 and May 2006. Together they were worth £200m to Jarvis last year, producing a £12m profit and 15% of turnover. Jarvis also holds several track renewal contracts which it is retaining.

On September 16, shortly before Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared at Waterloo to declare Section 1 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link completed (RG 10.03 p609), an IC225 train operated by Great North Eastern Railway derailed on double-slip points when leaving King’s Cross for Leeds. Jarvis admitted that its staff had removed a wing rail for repair during the night, but had failed to prevent the routes affected being set.

The embarrassment was acute, with the CTRL story overshadowed by media reports of ’another derailment’ on points for which Jarvis was responsible. Notably, these include the fatal derailment at Potters Bar on May 10 2002 (RG 6.02 p283), for which Jarvis faces possible prosecution. The company was also in court on September 29 answering charges relating to a derailment on points at Aldwarke Junction in Yorkshire on November 10 2002.

NR insisted that it was the contractor’s decision to pull out. However, NR was to undertake a rigorous audit of the company’s safety procedures, and was in the process of taking in-house infrastructure maintenance in three other areas which involved early termination of their respective contracts. The Jarvis contracts will be added to this portfolio, so that by April 2004 NR will be maintaining around a third of the network with its own employees.

So was NR nationalising maintenance, Armitt was asked in a BBC radio interview on October 10? ’No, we’re not’, he insisted. ’This was a decision by Jarvis to pull out, and we are going to take over the work and carry it out safely and effectively.’ n