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Sunday, 8 December, 2002, 18:17 GMT
'No blank cheques' for railways
Railway workers on a track
Rail service improvements could be on the way
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has warned the rail industry that he will not write a "blank cheque" to improve the network.

His determination to get "value for money" from any investment came amid reports the government was preparing to plough millions of pounds into the UK's transport system.

The overhaul of the system would include a 2 billion road-building programme, a revamped national rail timetable and a host of "quick fix" measures, the Sunday Times claimed.

The newspaper said the road re-building plan would tackle the most congested parts of the motorway - amounting to the biggest highway construction scheme for more than 20 years.

Be in no doubt we have got a long haul ahead of us

Alistair Darling
Mr Darling is due to reveal the next step in the government's 10-year transport plan this week.

He said it would include "quite a major investment" to tackle the country's transport problems.

He added several major road schemes would be "started and completed" in the course of this Parliament.

"Be in no doubt we have got a long haul ahead of us," told Sky News on Sunday.

"It will take time to turn things around but I haven't the slightest doubt that we need to invest in both the road system and the rail system."

M6 expansion

The Sunday Times reported that road plans included a 1 billion expansion of the M6 on a 60-mile stretch from the Midlands to Manchester, widening the M1 along the North-South corridor through the East Midlands and the expansion of the A1 north of Newcastle.

The paper said the government would also announce an overhaul of the national rail timetable, cut services that carry few passengers and put extra trains on crowded routes.

Mr Darling told Sky News: "The industry has got to realise that the government is determined to get value for money from the money that is going in to the system - we're not prepared to write blank cheques.

"It isn't just a question of maintaining services but we also want to get improvement."
Alistair Darling
Darling will reveal transport spending this week

Mr Darling said that the government would keep tight control of costs to achieve that improvement.

The railways now had a "far better sense of strategic direction" he said, adding: "But it will take time to turn these things round."

Mr Darling said that Crossrail, London's proposed East-West rail link, was "essential" and the government would bring forward a "firm, workable, affordable business case" by February for the project to go ahead.

"If we get a firmer grip on these projects then we've got a far greater chance of delivering," he said.

The Department of Transport confirmed that a cross-transport funding boost covering road, rail and local transport would be announced this week, but refused to give details.


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