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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 12:18 GMT
Rail boss defends 'realistic' cutbacks
Passengers at Euston station in London
Passengers will experience improvements, say the SRA
The Strategic Rail Authority has defended its decision to cut back on rail improvements across the UK.

SRA chairman, Richard Bowker, told the BBC the new plans are vital to bringing increased government investment next year.

But his comments come amid criticism from rail passenger groups and other representative bodies, who say train travel is already a "shambles" in desperate need of investment.

Far from scaling back, we haven't done that, we've just got real

Richard Bowker
SRA chairman

The leader of the country's biggest rail union has called for Mr Bowker to step down in the wake of the setbacks announced.

The cash crisis has caused major hold-ups in the government's long-term rail rescue strategy.

Defending the changes, Mr Bowker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've launched a plan today that passengers and freight companies should feel optimistic about."

He added it would pave the way for next year's spending review by showing to the government "we're getting on top of the problems we've inherited and we've got a way forward."

'Neglected'

Billions of pounds was being spent on projects such as the West Coast Mainline, 4,000 new trains ordered since privatisation and new signalling and power supply systems, he added.

Mr Bowker said changes to the East Coast Mainline schedule were made because most of the 4-5bn budget was "unnecessary".

This is a kick in the teeth for British business and for the economy as a whole

David Frost, British Chambers of Commerce

"Far from scaling back, we haven't done that - we've just got real."

The cutbacks were described as a "disappointment" by David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who said it was affecting UK businesses.

"Once again rail transport is being neglected. "The cost of the current shambles in the rail industry is 21,000 per business per year.

"This is a kick in the teeth for British business and for the economy as a whole with cuts in services already announced."

Bob Crowe, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said the SRA had been an "unmitigated disaster" under the chairmanship of Richard Bowker.

Mr Bowker should "have the grace to go", he said, and the complete rail network should be put back into public ownership.

"We need more rail not less, but that is what the SRA has been delivering," he added.

Cash plea

The target of improving rail passenger numbers by 50% remained in place, he said, although it had been put back from 2010.

Cutting out waste would enable the rail industry to make an "undeniable case" to government for increased investment, Mr Bowker added.

The rail industry could overcome its "biggest challenge" of its recent history.

"Performance is not good enough, cost control is not good enough.

"We have to get those two things back under control, but the industry can do that."

Projects affected
East Coast Main Line modernisation delayed
London to Bristol electrification scrapped
Grants for small local projects cut
Caroline Jones, of the Rail Passengers Council, said it wanted to see long-term investment continue.

"If projects are being delayed, we would like to see them brought back within the strategic plan as soon as possible."

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth said that despite the financial restraints, a better railway was "both possible and essential".

Lord Barclay of the Rail Freight Group told Today that government plans to suspend engineering improvements would put an extra five million lorries on the roads.

He said: "I think it's ridiculous that they have put all these cuts on to freight while still carrying on with the passenger budget."


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