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EDITIONS
Monday, 14 January, 2002, 08:32 GMT
Rail reform gathers speed
Repair workers on a section of the rail network
The soon to be unveiled plans include 40 track schemes
By Rebecca Pike, BBC transport reporter

It has been more delayed than the 7.02 to Tunbridge Wells. But the long-awaited publication of the Strategic Rail Plan will be seized upon as a rare piece of sanity in an industry that is becoming unhinged.

The SRA spells out how it intends to meet the government's target of 50% growth in passenger numbers and 80% growth in freight over the next ten years.


For the first time in years, the unions hold the fate of the whole industry in their hands

It is the first time such a long-term plan has been published for the railways, with committed funding attached.

The plan confirms a number of priority investment projects.

They include the completion of the Train Protection Early Warning System, the replacement of all Mark1 - "slamming door" - trains, the completion of the first phase of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the upgrade of the West Coast mainline.

Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority
Bowker hopes the plan will reassure private investors
Other longer-term commitments include the East Coast Main Line upgrade - including the improvement of Kings Cross - and measures to reduce overcrowding in the south east of England.

There has been criticism of plans to put a disproportionate amount of money into London and the south-east.

But half of all commuter journeys go into London. And the SRA insists that the regions are not being neglected.

There is 400m for developing so-called Rail Passenger Partnerships - who will advise on small-scale schemes.

Cutting congestion

These will include new stations, new train services, bigger car parks and better station facilities.

One such scheme in Cardiff - where new trains have been leased with a small amount of extra money - has already relieved congestion.

The growing skills shortage in the railways will be addressed. As well as the driver shortages which are causing so many problems at the moment, there is also a shortage of signal and track engineers. The SRA is giving a 500,000 grant towards a new National Rail Academy.

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers says railways will improve before the next election
And the number of train-operating companies will be reduced from the current 25. Firstly by bringing operators at key London terminals under single control. Then by reviewing franchise boundaries.

Where possible, companies on short-term contracts will be put on a more stable footing.

Finally, perhaps in the long-term most crucially, the Strategic Rail Authority itself is being restructured.

Management change

Richard Bowker wants the authority to provide real leadership in a fragmented industry. It will be streamlined into three separate directorates, from the current nine or 10.

Mr Bowker hopes that the publication of this plan will reassure private investors.

Certainly it enables franchisees and companies who supply the railways to plan for the long-term.

There are still many problems ahead. Not only is the future of Railtrack more uncertain than ever, but, for the first time in years, the unions hold the fate of the whole industry in their hands.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"The government is worried the railways could turn voters against labour at the next election"
Peter Rayner, an independent rail expert
"You could improve the railway without all the money if you operated it sensibly"
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:

13 Jan 02 | UK Politics
12 Jan 02 | England
11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
10 Jan 02 | Business
09 Jan 02 | UK
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