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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Billions to 'cut congestion'
John Prescott on a train
Mr Prescott wants to improve life for commuters
Transport Secretary John Prescott is expected to announce plans to ease road congestion and boost public transport as he rolls out the government's 10-year plan for transport on Thursday.

The 130bn package is expected to include motorway widening schemes, more cash for road maintenance, and a huge investment in the railways.

But the private sector may have to provide half the money for the ambitious programme of building work.

It may also be difficult for the government to produce a dramatic change in the UK's transport system ahead of the next election, which may be little more than a year away.

Traffic jam
Road-widening schemes will not be ruled out
Predicting some of the contents of Mr Prescott's announcement, the chairman of the government's commission on integrated transport, Professor David Begg said: "We are looking at the biggest investment in transport infrastructure since the Victorian era."

But he warned: "There is no magic wand here, it's going to take time."

Turning to car congestion, the professor said the government would be setting targets for its reduction.

"That is brave, it is ambitious, because there isn't a country in the developed world that has made a serious reduction to congestion levels at a time of economic growth."

Looking at the highly priced rail network, he said he expected the government to ensure that fare rises were kept in line with inflation.

On the road

The plans for roads are thought to include bypasses, road-widening schemes and increased spending to tackle the 5bn backlog on road maintenance

Motorway tolls will be ruled out for 10 years and local authorities will be encouraged to introduce congestion charging and workplace parking charges.

Motorway speed limits on busy sections may also be reduced at certain times.

New road schemes may include a fourth lane for the M6 between Manchester and Birmingham.

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: "We would not oppose congestion charging as long as there is good alternative public transport.

"A change in planning procedures would also be welcome as it can take 10 to 13 years from an idea for a new road being thought up to its eventual completion."

Tram in Sheffield
Tram systems are a popular alternative to the car
About 40bn of investment in the railways is expected, with increased subsidies for the rail operators.

In return Mr Prescott will demand commitments to provide more services and better reliability from the train operators.

Stewart Francis, chairman of the Rail Passengers Council, said: "The investment in major rebuilding of parts of the rail network will help free up bottlenecks, boost performance and capacity and start the process of building a railway that will lead to a fundamental shift in travel in this country."

There will also be government cash for alternatives to the car, such as Manchester's successful tram system.

Kevin Howcroft of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive said: "Trams are seen as a modern and efficient form of public transport. They bring an element of quality to public transport as measured in terms of frequency, reliability and comfort, and that means that they are attractive to car drivers."

Other schemes in Bristol, Portsmouth and Leeds could be funded.

A spokesman for environmental transport group Transport 2000 said: "The chancellor has opened a small drawer in his war chest and it's important that the money is now spent wisely on reversing the historic under-investment in public transport."

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