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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June 2004, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
More rail control for government
Virgin train
The railways have long been the focus of travellers' ire
The UK government is planning to take greater control of the national rail system, according to a leaked document.

The draft comes after Transport Secretary Alistair Darling ordered an overview of the UK's train network.

Among the proposals put forward in a draft seen by the BBC is the scrapping of the Strategic Rail Authority.

BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds says the government is taking action because it believes "there is no coherent strategy" for the railways.

He said the leak was of a progress report from about a month ago, but gave an idea of the government's thinking.

Under those plans, the government would be given more power to make the "big decisions" such as fare-setting and how much should be invested in the railways.

This is a private industry, this must always be remembered
Rail regulator Tom Winsor

Also discussed was the possibility of creating a smaller rail agency, that would operate between the government and industry and set targets to measure the service's performance, he said.

The role of Network Rail is also being considered, though the government said it had no plans to renationalise the company which looks after infrastructure including track, tunnels and stations.

It could be required to set timetables which companies will not be able to change.

According to the document, the SRA will be abolished not "because it has failed" but because it lacks the power to do its job properly.

Rail regulator Tom Winsor said the prospects of rail re-nationalisation were "zero".

'Political flack'

On the SRA's role, he said Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had envisaged the body to be his "iron fist in an iron glove" - but it could never have lived up to that role.

"The promises that were made for the SRA were frankly unachievable," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Winsor said the notion the government can do whatever it likes with the railways was wrong.

"This is a private industry, this must always be remembered," he said.

"The outcome of this rail review is about government having a much surer hand on the protection of the public interest and the protection of public expenditure."

A Department of Transport spokesman said it was examining every possibility and that no decisions had yet been taken.

The report is expected to be released next month.

Tom Symonds suggested the move would potentially heap more blame for the railways on the government's shoulders.

"In taking more control of the railways, especially the big strategic decisions - for example whether to build new lines - if they can do that then they are going to take the political flack for it," he said.

The controversial move would saddle the Treasury with about 13bn of debts.

The BBC's Tom Symonds
"The railways are in a period of limbo"

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