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Breakfast with Frost
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST
HOSTED BY SUE MACGREGOR
INTERVIEW:
RICHARD BOWKER
SEPTEMBER 1ST, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

SUE MACGREGOR:
Now just as you thought the trains were beginning to run on time we heard this week that sections of the West Coast line from London to Glasgow are to be closed for several weeks next summer and the following summer too - this is after five years of the most appalling upheavals and a series of course of fatal accidents. Where's the evidence of a safe, reliable and affordable network just around the corner? Well the new chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority is Richard Bowker. Good morning Richard.

RICHARD BOWKER:
Morning.

SUE MACGREGOR:
People when they read that news a few days ago thought oh no, not again. I mean is this finally going to clear up this big West Coast job, a botch job?

RICHARD BOWKER:
I think this is the opportunity to, to really get a grip on the project. It has clearly been drifting and I don't think there's a single person within the industry or observing it who, who could have said anything different. We had a number of options and we discussed them amongst the entire industry and said putting passengers first how do we get this job done quickly, effectively, get it sorted? This was the best of the options.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Well it's not going to be sorted for another few years, is it?

RICHARD BOWKER:
It's, it is the, one of the single biggest projects of any railway in the world, it is one of the worlds busiest railway lines, so no it's not a straightforward overnight job, it has to get done, it has to get focused and this is the way to do it.

SUE MACGREGOR:
The Independent on Sunday reminds us this morning that the costs of the upgrade have risen six fold and now it's something like the GDP of several of the developing countries of the world put together, I mean the costs are absolutely astronomical. People pay huge amounts for season tickets, people pay huge amounts for single journeys, when is this going to be finished, ready and finally able to take the decent fast trains?

RICHARD BOWKER:
Well the interesting thing about that is that actually the costs of the upgrade have actually not risen that significantly, what has risen a lot is the cost of putting right 20, 30 years of under-investment. The railway line was last upgraded in the 1960s and nothing's really been done since¿

SUE MACGREGOR:
But we keep hearing people like you saying all these years of under-investment, it's like you know in the old days Labour used to say 13 years of Tory misrule and all that. But what in fact it is is bad management surely, since the new investment went in the last management lot post-privatisation didn't seem to be able to cope?

RICHARD BOWKER:
The West Coast mainline has had bad management as a project, absolutely right.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Recently?

RICHARD BOWKER:
Since, since the point at which the project was, was conceived it has not been managed effectively and we would all like to say we would not like to be here but we are here so the issue now is how do we actually with, with a new team in place, there's a new chief executive of Railtrack, John Armitt, very effectively starting to get a grip on that company and so together with, with the whole team that we have we think now this is the right thing to do to get the railway upgraded as quickly and as effectively as possible.

SUE MACGREGOR:
So your Strategic Rail Authority is now taking a much more strong view on what needs to be done by one particular authority, you're masterminding investment, you're masterminding upgrading, you're telling the train companies that they won't necessarily have their franchises renewed for ex numbers of years unless they perform better. Are we gradually now returning to a sort of renationalisation policy?

RICHARD BOWKER:
No we're not but we are returning to a, to clarity and certainty of the future. I think over the last few years there's been a huge amount of bickering, there's been a huge amount of, of lack of leadership, yes there are tough decisions to be made over the next few years and we will take them.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Would you bring Sir Alistair, Sir Alistair Morton your predecessor in to, for people that you've criticised there?

RICHARD BOWKER:
I think the world has changed quite significantly over the last 12 to 18 months, I think, you know the past is, is interesting but the crucial thing is what do we do now. There are going to be some difficult issues to face over the coming years, someone's got to take the tough decisions, I will do that, putting passengers first and making sure that we work towards the railway we all deserve and expect.

SUE MACGREGOR:
You're keeping a careful eye on the money of course but Virgin, your own old company, is going to get another £200 million to help it upgrade, we're told?

RICHARD BOWKER:
Yes I saw that story.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Is it not true?

RICHARD BOWKER:
It's amazing to see where these things come from. The discussions with Virgin and any other train operator affected by this in terms of what they may be entitled to haven't even begun so that process is still to happen. The first job was to put the project right because that's what passengers want to know, they want to know when are we going to get the railway sorted, that was job one and that's now being done and over the course of the next few months we will be talking to the operators about what the consequences of that.

SUE MACGREGOR:
But what you've not denied is that Virgin may get another big tranche of money to help it along?

RICHARD BOWKER:
There are contracts in place and you cannot, you can't deny their existence, they do exist but that debate still has to be, still has to happen. My job is to make sure that the maximum amount of money stays in the railway so that we can upgrade the railway.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Can you give us a date for the start of Network Rail which will replace the old Railtrack, the part privatised company?

RICHARD BOWKER:
Well there's a, there's a significant amount of work going on to closing that out at the moment and my understanding is that over the course of the next few months we could move towards a position where Network Rail can, can begin their, begin their job.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Let me ask you one really difficult question for you, I'm told you were on holiday not very long ago at a, at a party where various famous people were gigging away, including the Prime Minister, you were at the piano and Tony Blair playing the guitar, just a few days ago together, was this right?

RICHARD BOWKER:
It is right, but it was a private birthday party and it was a lot of fun and everyone had a good time.

SUE MACGREGOR:
How's Tony Blair on the guitar these days?

RICHARD BOWKER:
He's very good.

SUE MACGREGOR:
Okay Richard Bowker thank you very much indeed for talking to us.

RICHARD BOWKER:
Thank you.

END
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