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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 18:17 GMT
Railways' future to be mapped out
The network needs years of improvement
The new strategic rail plan to be unveiled on Monday will "set out a route map for change and improvement", says Downing Street.

Against expectations, no new money for the battered rail industry will be announced but Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said the plan would show passengers what to expect and when.

With the investment and the change going in, it will get better, but it will take time to do so

Tony Blair
The spokesman said there was "no better railways pill" that could cure the neglect of the last 30 years.

Mr Blair himself warned on Sunday that change would take time and says a fundamental overhaul of railway infrastructure is needed for train services to improve.

New warning system

A report from the Strategic Rail Authority will set out details of how money will be spent on the government's 10-year rail plan.

The government is contributing 33.5bn of the 63.5bn earmarked for the strategy, with the rest due to come from private investors.

Downing Street says short-term objectives include introducing a train protection warning system by 2003 and upgrading commuter lines - particularly those into London - by 2004/5.

Monday's report is also tipped to include upgrades for a thousand stations by 2004, as well as 40 track and signalling schemes.
Tony Blair
Blair says an infrastructure overhaul is needed

There will also be new measures to address skills shortages in the rail industry, including plans for a new national rail academy to tackle the lack of expertise in signalling and overhead power lines.

Earlier, Mr Blair, who will meet Transport Secretary Stephen Byers and Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority on Monday, promised things would get better for passengers over time.

The prime minister told BBC One's Breakfast With Frost: "With the investment and the change going in, it will get better, but it will take time to do so."

'Right decisions'

The true scale of the problems with rail tracks had been revealed in the wake of the Hatfield rail crash and lifting speed restrictions still in place after that disaster was the first priority, he said.

"Unless we renew fundamentally the railways' infrastructure in this country, then we're not going to put the railways in the state people want them."

Mr Blair again defended his beleaguered Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, whom he said had made the right decisions in putting Railtrack into administration.

Stephen Byers
Blair says Byers has his full confidence
Asked if rail service would return to the standard seen under British Rail, Mr Blair said they would once money was invested.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith seized on the comments as evidence of Labour's "poverty of ambition".

"I find it quite staggering that the prime minister should use British Rail as a benchmark for improvement in our rail network," said the Tory leader.

"Everyone knows British Rail was a national joke and if that is what passengers have to look forward to, then the outlook is bleak."

The Conservatives also say the government's handling of the Railtrack crisis means the private sector will be reluctant to invest the money needed for the 10-year plan.

The Liberal Democrats say they expect the SRA report to include plans for 1,700 new train carriages.

They say much of that rolling stock is already on order but is taking too long to get onto the network.

'Disarray ahead'

Lib Dem transport spokesman Don Foster also pointed to research suggesting the plans could cause more problems on the rail network.

"When all the 'new' trains eventually do arrive, they risk overloading the existing power supply," said Mr Foster.

"Arrangements for upgrading the power supply are in disarray."

The SRA report comes after a week where the disruption hitting train passengers has topped the political agenda, and amid continuing concerns over the possibility of more rail strikes.

The BBC's Simon Montague
"The Prime Minister admits renewing the railways was not top priority"
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative leader
"John Prescott and the Chancellor messed up what they inherited"
Government transport advisor, Prof David Begg
"In some ways, Stephen Byers is a victim of what he inherited"
See also:

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