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EDITIONS
Monday, 17 February, 2003, 16:30 GMT
Train services to be cut
Commuters board a train
The cuts have been criticised as "crazy"
More than 100 trains a day are to be scrapped in an effort to cut congestion.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), the government body overseeing the railways, said the move would improve punctuality.

But rail union the RMT said the move was "lunacy", and a business leader described it as "crazy".

The Rail Passengers Council, which represents passengers, said many people would be "disappointed".

In all, 104 services out of 17,000 will be cut as from May.

Services affected will be those between Oxford and Bristol on First Great Western and Thames, with 18 trains withdrawn and no more direct links between the two cities.

Central Trains is cutting 32 train services on the Crewe to Manchester Airport part of the Manchester Airport to East Midlands route.

Central Trains' Derby to Birmingham stretch of the Matlock to Birmingham route will have services reduced by 12.

South Central's Southampton to Bournemouth segment of the London to Bournemouth route will see 30 fewer trains.

'Under-used trains'

There will also be some cuts to Virgin's cross-country services, which use the new Voyager trains.

About six cross-country services will be cut north of Edinburgh, but more carriages will be added to peak-hour trains.

Across the country there are now 20% more trains than there were at privatisation, and many routes have become severely congested.

It is absolutely unbelievable that services are being cut in the interests of reliability

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

George Muir, of the Association of Train Operating Companies, backed the move as one way of preventing "overall deterioration".

He told the BBC's Today programme the services had to be cut because congestion was causing "excessive delays" for passengers.

Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), admitted the cuts would inconvenience passengers.

But he told Today he was removing "some under-used trains that cause delays for the more popular ones".

"Overall, the gain will outweigh the pain," he said.

He said further services could be cut in other areas where there was heavy congestion.

Overall, the gain will outweigh the pain

Richard Bowker, SRA
Anthony Smith of the Rail Passengers Council said: "Passengers will be very disappointed in some parts of the country, where there will be a loss of service."

He said the services had been introduced in response to passenger demand, and people were now used to using them.

But Mr Smith admitted the current timetable was simply not working.

THE SRA SAYS
Performance will improve in the congested Birmingham area
Cross Country, South Central, First Great Western and Central trains will become more punctual
There will be more seats available on the most overcrowded Cross Country services

Bob Crow, general secretary of the biggest rail union the RMT, strongly criticised the cuts, saying: "There is nothing strategic about the Strategic Rail Authority.

"It is lunacy to suggest that by cutting services you will improve them... we need more services, not less."

Mick Rix, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, said the cuts were a "final indictment of the failure of the privatised railway industry", and called for re-nationalisation.

A spokesman for the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce described the cuts as "crazy".

"It makes me wonder who these people are serving. It is absolutely unbelievable that services are being cut in the interests of reliability.

"Any erosion of rail services is a step backwards and will affect businesses."

Shadow transport secretary Tim Collins said the cuts would signal "yet another nail in the coffin of the government's 10-year transport plan".

And environmental pressure group Transport 2000 public transport campaigner Mick Duncan warned Britain would "end up like the United States where local services are virtually non-existent".

"These local trains are often services people rely on to get to work, visit friends and relatives or gain access to leisure facilities," he added.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Don Foster, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman
"Getting greater reliability is very important"
The BBC's Tom Symonds
"Apparently, we now have too many trains"
Tim Collins, Conservative's transport spokesman
"Yet another nail in the coffin of the government's strategy"

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See also:

16 Jan 03 | UK
15 Dec 02 | Politics
10 Dec 02 | England
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