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Thursday, 1 October, 1998, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Trains a 'national disgrace'
Prescott: A spring clean for the railways
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has promised tougher regulation of the privatised rail industry.

Mr Prescott told the Labour Party conference in Blackpool that Britain's railways had become a national disgrace.

He poured scorn on Virgin Trains, whose late-running service had delayed the arrival of several ministers to Blackpool on Sunday.

Spring clean

Rail passengers had seen service reduction, failing performance and increased fares despite the private companies receiving twice the subsidy British Rail had for a poorer service, said Mr Prescott.

There was now a record of a million complaints about the railways and a record number of railway millionaires, he continued.

Prescott and Blair
Prescott received a standing ovation
The deputy prime minister told delegates he was beginning a "spring clean" of the rail industry.

He said it was time to give the red signal to the rail industry and demand "all change".

Mr Prescott said he would set up a Strategic Rail Authority as soon as the legislation could be passed. In the interim, he would set up a shadow body so progress could be made immediately.

In addition, he would appoint a new franchise director to renegotiate contracts with the train operators, including tougher performance targets and tougher penalties for failing to meet them.

Mr Prescott promised he would deliver a modern top class rail service for the 21st century in the next 10 years.

He said: "I am today switching the points in the privatised railways away from poor punctuality and reliability, overcrowding and inadequate rolling stock towards a modern, efficient, top class service for the 21st century."

Threat to poor operators

He said he would not be held to ransom by private rail operators but he would call time on those who could no operate their services on time.

Mr Prescott told delegates the new Strategic Rail Authority would be given the power to run franchises and called for any of the current operators to hand in the keys if they were getting cold feet.

Passengers would also be given a voice on the new body which would be central to an integrated transport network.

Mr Prescott's threats of tough regulations and tough penalties were rewarded with a long standing ovation.

His wide-ranging speech was followed by delegates, including RMT leader Jimmy Knapp, calling for the renationalisation of the railways.

Earlier, Transport Minister John Reid threatened to take away the franchises of private rail operators if they failed to provide services which are "safe, reliable and punctual", but he rejected renationalisation as "unfeasible".

John Reid: "Incentives and penalties"
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Reid rejected the union position, describing it as "technically incompetent, probably illegal, unfeasible".

"That isn't a course of action that has much support at conference," he said.

"I know there is a motion up harking back to the old days, as it were. Such a measure would cost 20 billion."

BBC News
Chief political correspondent John Sergeant: "Mr Prescott backed it up with an open threat"
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Prescott: Trains "a national disgrace"
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John Pienaar: Sanctions went down well with the party
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26 Aug 98 | UK
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