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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Minister hails rail powers switch
Transport Minister Nicol Stephen
Nicol Stephen said rail passengers would enjoy improved services
The Scottish Executive has welcomed the decision to give it greater control over the country's rail services.

Transport Minister Nicol Stephen hailed the "significant move", saying it would create a simpler and more streamlined rail network.

The new powers will give the executive responsiblity for track and infrastructure improvements.

UK Transport Secretary Alistair Darling confirmed the transfer in the Commons on Thursday.

The executive, through Network Rail, will have day-to-day control over track and signalling north of the border.

It will create a simpler, clearer, more streamlined system
Transport Minister Nicol Stephen
The move is the most significant increase in the executive's powers since devolution.

In a statement to MPs on the future of the UK's railways, Mr Darling said decisions should be made locally by people who knew what was needed.

The executive will be responsible for planning, specifying and managing services under existing franchises.

The rail infrastructure will be owned and managed by Network Rail with ministers deciding what they want and how the system should be paid for.

'Vital connections'

The Strategic Rail Authority, which currently awards franchises, will be wound up, meaning that the executive will have more say in the choice of future operators.

Mr Stephen said the executive and the UK Government believed the move was the best way to improve the rail network.

He said: "It will create a simpler, clearer, more streamlined system which for the first time brings together powers over train services, track and stations in Scotland.

"This new deal allows us to put the interests of passengers at the centre of rail industry and not expensive, bureaucratic structures.

"Scotland's railways provide vital connections for our communities and for businesses. They are key to our vision of an efficient and reliable, integrated transport network."

Queen Street Station, Glasgow
Scottish ministers already have powers over rail operators

The minister said the transfer will enable the executive to take "a long-term" approach to investment.

He added: "This new rail deal gives us significant new powers in Scotland. The challenge is now to deliver improvements for our communities and for our economy."

The Scottish National Party said the success of the move hinged on adequate funding being made available.

Transport spokesman Kenny MacAskill said: "The announcement from Alistair Darling today is a step in the right direction and should be welcomed.

'Fresh start'

"However, it must be subject to them being adequate for purpose and the necessary funds must be provided.

"This is the green light for a fresh start."

The Scottish Greens said the move puts "the reins in the hands of Scottish ministers".

Green MSP Robin Harper said: "For too long, projects like the Borders rail link have been gathering dust on the shelf with no significant sign of the kind of investment needed."

The move was welcomed by senior transport advisor David Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport.

'Makes sense'

He said the executive was already starting to pay for quite a large part of the country's railways, such as the new rail franchise.

"It makes sense to give them control over what is happening on the track," he said.

However, he also raised two issues.

"One is, do they have the resources to deliver the type of railways Scotland aspires to, because this is an industry that is hungry for resources with costs rising really fast?," he said.

"Secondly, we still have this separation between who runs the track, Network Rail, and who runs the trains, which will soon be First Group in Scotland.

"I still think it makes a lot of sense to bring track and trains back together in a vertically integrated structure."

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