Blair to signal new rail strategy

THE PRIME Minister has intervened in the dispute over the dismal state of the rail industry and taken charge of today's summit aimed at getting trains to run on time.

Downing Street said Tony Blair had decided to give the opening speech because of the importance he attaches to transport. He will address an audience that will include train companies, Railtrack, the regulators and passenger representatives.

His intervention will be taken as a clear sign that transport is moving back up the political agenda. It had been understood the meeting would be run by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr Blair's presence will be a boost for Mr Prescott after his failure to secure a place for the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) Bill in last year's Queen's Speech. The Government last night said it had appointed Sir Alastair Morton as SRA chairman. There is speculation Mr Blair will announce he has found time in this Parliament to create the SRA.