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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Rail regulation plan scrapped
Commuters wait at Waterloo station
The industry has long pressured ministers
The government has performed a U-turn on plans to scrap independent regulation of Britain's railways.

The new transport secretary, Alistair Darling, has announced plans to build up the powers of the Rail Regulator Tom Winsor, who ensures fair play between the privatised rail companies.

And there will be also be a new "statutory regulatory board" established.

Last October, Mr Darling's predecessor Stephen Byers promised legislation to rationalise the regulator's role and reduce day to day interference in the industry, by giving more power to the Strategic Rail Authority, a government body.

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling made the Commons announcement

But on Wednesday Mr Darling announced to MPs: "Having reviewed the current regulatory regime, the government proposes to build on the existing board structure of the Office of the Rail Regulator by establishing a statutory regulatory board.

"This is in line with government policy on independent regulatory authorities, is consistent with the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force, and has been done in the case of the regulation of the gas and electricity industries and postal services and is in the course of being done for the Office of Fair Trading (Enterprise Bill) and the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors."

Pressure

BBC Transport Correspondent Simon Montague said the about-turn followed pressure from across the industry.

Rail companies told the government that billions of pounds of private investment would be put at risk, if there were not independent regulation of railway financing, Montague said.

The government is hoping that Network Rail - the company it has created to replace Railtrack - will reach a deal to take over responsibility for the railway network before the end of July.

The issue of rail regulation has come to the fore constantly over the past months with both the moving of Railtrack into administration and the rail crash at Potters Bar which claimed seven lives.

Backlash

It culminated with former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers' resignation last month.

Already, Mr Darling has had to deal with a backlash which stemmed from the Paddington rail crash in 1991.

Thirty-one people died and 414 were injured when a Thames commuter train leaving Paddington was involved in a head-on collision with a Great Western express service from Cheltenham.

Earlier this month Dan Corry, a former transport department special adviser, was forced to apologise after trying to discover in an e-mail the political sympathies of the Paddington Survivors' Group.

On Thursday, Mr Darling is to meet members of the group but a department spokesman insisted it was "routine".

As the new Secretary of State he had already met other groups representing the rail industry including Railtrack, he added.

BBC News Online's in-depth coverage on the state of the UK's railways


10 year rail plan

1,000 MILE RAIL TRIP
See also:

29 May 02 | UK Politics
09 Jun 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics
18 Jan 02 | UK
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