The company that owns the UK's railway track and signalling had a £2.5bn turnover in 1997/98 and recorded a pre-tax profit of £388m, which was 12% higher than the previous year. There is no reason to suggest that the half-year figures will be disappointing. Finance director Norman Broadhurst is already committed to spending more than £1bn a year on improving Britain's railways. Indeed, £1.2bn came out of his coffers in 1997/98 for this purpose, representing a 30% increase on the previous year's investment. A £2.1bn modernisation programme for the West Coast Line will be among the improvements of the next few years. However, Broadhurst must be wondering what extra expenditure will be demanded of Railtrack by the safety inquiry prompted by the Paddington disaster, made all the more urgent by a second collision at Lewes, East Sussex, last week. The much-talked-about automatic train protection system could well be ordered by the inquiry at a speculated £1bn cost to Railtrack. The government is not offering to pay any part of the bill, though small amounts may be available under the complicated subsidy system. The good news for Railtrack is that a safety system covering all Britain's mainline railways cannot be installed overnight, and Broadhurst must be keeping his fingers crossed that he can spread the cost evenly over the five to ten years that the work will take.
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