British Rail privatisation White Paper: BR to be run as franchise operation

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British Rail services are to be split into 30 to 40 franchises. Some will be offered to the private sector as soon as 1994 with the expectation that eventually all will be privately controlled.

The long-awaited White Paper on BR privatisation published yesterday broadly follows the Tory election manifesto.

Wholesale privatisation as one unit has been rejected and even the profitable InterCity is not to be sold as an entity. The plan is to divide BR into a track authority, Railtrack, and a service operator. Two independent regulatory bodies, responsible to the Government, will be created: an authority responsible for awarding and monitoring franchises, and a regulator to oversee track access and charging, and to promote consumers' interests.

Stations would be sold or leased or taken on by franchisees. BR's freight operations are to be privatised piecemeal.

In most cases, franchisees will be paid a subsidy and will have to fulfil minimum service levels.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, said that

there would be no blueprint for franchises.

While his plans were welcomed by his backbenchers, Mr MacGregor angered some by giving no guarantees about line closures or reductions in services. He said legislation would be tabled this year. Most changes are expected to be completed by 1997.

The plans were criticised by Labour's transport spokesman, John Prescott, who said: 'This is no passenger's charter. It is more of a cherry picker's charter, ripe for exploitation by route operators, bribed by public subsidies.'

The rail revolution, page 5

Leading article, page 20