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Monday, September 21, 1998 Published at 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK


Rail regulator to go

John Swift QC: It was said he was to become a "sacrificial lamb"

The Rail Regulator John Swift QC is to leave his post in November.

Mr Swift, who oversees the railway companies' performance in his watchdog role, made the announcement after talks with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

He said: "I had a very constructive and lengthy discussion with the Deputy Prime Minister.

"As you know, my five-year contract as rail regulator and international rail regulator will come to an end at 30th November 1998.

[ image: John Prescott: Had lengthy talks with the rail watchdog]
John Prescott: Had lengthy talks with the rail watchdog
"At a time of significant change in the industry, the Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear to me that he wishes to make a new appointment for the whole term of five years.

"I had indicated that I would accept an offer of a limited renewal of my contract to see through the period until the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority.

"I said that I would not wish to serve the full five year term and have agreed therefore to step down at the end of November.

"The government will now set in hand arrangements for finding a replacement."

A spokesman for Mr Prescott said: "The Deputy Prime Minister is grateful for the good work Mr Swift has done, the work that is in hand and for his general co-operation in this matter."

Unwilling to serve a further term

The spokesman said Mr Swift would have accepted a limited renewal of his contract until the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority, but he had been unwilling to serve a further five-year term.

Mr Swift's decision follows reports last month that the government was considering sacking him.

It was said that he was to become a "sacrificial lamb" for an industry which was continuing to under-perform and whose public image was perceived to have worsened since privatisation.

The saga that has emerged out of the privatisation of the rail system - started with the New Opportunities for Railways white paper in 1992 - has provided a catalogue of underperformance.

The complexities of a large number of separate companies providing rail services has resulted in numerous complaints and threats from the rail regulator.

Even so, trains are reported as being later, fares more expensive, and services increasingly sparse.

    Going off the rails:

  • High track charges levied by Railtrack mean it's cheaper to send broken-down rail vehicles by road than by rail.

  • Railtrack workers put out a fire at Beckenham Junction with mud because the fire extinguisher belonged to South Eastern trains. A notice at the station warned staff that using fire extinguishers on Railtrack equipment could result in "disciplinary action".

  • In March 1997, South West Trains cancelled 2,500 trains - because it had made too many drivers redundant as part of a cost-cutting drive. Threatened with a 1m fine, they managed to bump services back up to more than 97.5% of the minimum requirement.

  • In August 1997, a Swiss bank carried out a survey which showed that British rail fairs were the most expensive in the world. Shadow transport minister Glenda Jackson dismissed the findings as "simplistic".

  • In March this year, the French-owned Connex South Central service was found to be carrying 60,000 passengers in the morning rush hour. The figure represented 3,500 people more than it should have been carrying.

  • Platform four at Southport station was allocated to Merseyrail. The service only runs electric trains, but the track is not electrified - so there are no trains at the platform.

  • Train managers on the Exmouth to Paignton line increased fares for a weekly season ticket for schoolchildren from Teignmouth to Torre from 6.35 to 9.90 because too many children were using the trains.

  • By July this year, one million customers had complained to private rail companies. With 796 complaints per 100,000 passengers, Virgin Trains were the worst offenders.

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