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The BBC's Simon Montague
"The authority blames the delay on the Hatfield crash"
 real 56k

Sir Alistair Morton, Chairman of the SRA
"The privatisation was seriously flawed"
 real 28k

Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 14:35 GMT
Big delay for rail 'masterplan'
Trains
The new Strategic Rail Authority has more legal powers
The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has confirmed that its masterplan for expanding the rail network will not be published until the end of the year - 18 months late.

The disclosure comes on the same day that the SRA gains more powers under the Transport Act and drops its shadow status.

The plan for updating lines and building new ones was due last May and the delay may embarrass the government, which wants the SRA to give the privatised rail industry new direction.


People seem to want us to lay down a Stalinist blueprint for them

SRA chairman Sir Alistair Morton
The authority blames the delay on last October's Hatfield crash and the rail regulator's review of how Railtrack funds big projects.

The editor of Rail Professional magazine, Andrew Goodman, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the SRA had "failed to deliver".

"We wanted to see a lead on the direction for the rail industry into the future," he said. "What we've had has been fairly short-termist franchise renewals and a failure to provide a broad-brush picture for the market to respond to."

But SRA chairman, Sir Alistair Morton, defended the delay, saying he could not impose a "Stalinist blueprint" on the railways.

"There are delays but I think I seem to be the only person who remembers railways have been privatised," he told Today.

"People seem to want us to lay down a Stalinist blueprint for them. They have to choose what they want to do.


It has taken 35 to 40 years to get into the mess we are in and it will take a decade to get out of it, if not more

SRA chairman Sir Alistair Morton
"The privatisation was seriously flawed but we are where we are. It's a privatised railway and it's not going to be re-nationalised."

The government created the SRA to plan a bigger network, carrying more passengers on more trains.

As well as shaping national rail policy, it will also distribute public funds.

The process of granting new franchise contracts to the train operating companies is also six months behind schedule.

Anger

The delay has angered train companies, which are being tempted to delay investment until the situation is clearer.

But Sir Alistair insisted there was no quick fix.

"It takes years to upgrade a railway network," he said. "It has taken 35 to 40 years to get into the mess we are in and it will take a decade to get out of it, if not more.

"Every time we have a set back it adds months to that estimate."

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Don Foster, said public investment should go to "priority projects".

Sir Alistair Morton
Sir Alistair Morton: Aims to deliver a service that people want
"The modernisation of the east and west coast main lines and a high-speed rail link between Scotland and the Channel Tunnel are pressing needs," he said.

But Sir Alistair was pessimistic about the prospect of installing a high-speed east coast mainline quickly.

He said: "How many 'nimbys' have to be got out of the way before you can build a high-speed line on virgin ground virtually the length of Britain? It can't be done quickly."

The Institute of Directors (IoD) said the business community remains "sceptical" about the effectiveness of the SRA.

"The creation of yet another quango will generate little optimism among our members, and I suspect the public at large," said spokesman Geraint Day.

"Even before the near chaos that started with the crash at Hatfield, nearly three-quarters of IoD members surveyed thought that the passenger and the taxpayer were not getting a fair deal on Britain's railways."

New high-speed trains

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive has announced that new 125mph express diesel trains - due to come into service this summer - are in the final stages of approval.

First Great Western high speed train
First Great Western high speed trains due this summer
Unlike existing high-speed trains they do not have an engine in front - passengers will be seated in the front carriage.

The new diesels use "crumple zone" technology with a tough safety cage and energy-absorbing outer shells to protect travellers in an accident.

They will also have Automatic Train Protection, a costly and sophisticated safety mechanism to prevent trains going through signals at danger.

The Class 180 diesels are expected to be in service this summer on First Great Western's routes between London and the Cotswolds, Bristol and Cardiff.

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See also:

29 Jan 01 | UK
Railways 'back on track'
19 Jan 01 | Business
Hatfield firm loses tracks contract
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