Bowker calls summit of big rail operators

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The Independent Online

Britain's rail chief has called an emergency meeting today of the major train operating companies in an attempt to win support for his vision of the future of the network, according to senior industry sources.

Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, has called in senior directors of all the main players, including National Express, First Group and Stagecoach.

While authority officials denied it was part of Mr Bowker's 11th-hour campaign to influence the Government's review of the industry, other sources said that he had been quite open about the fact the meeting would be used as an opportunity for him to put his arguments.

The SRA chairman is anxious to head-off plans to strip him and his organisation of its powers. He is understood to have rejected suggestions from the Department for Transport that today's high-powered session may be counter-productive.

Mr Bowker has attempted to enlist the backing of senior ministers for his blueprint that involves a merger of the SRA and the infrastructure company Network Rail. It is understood that the Chancellor is deeply suspicious of what has become to be known as "Bowker Rail" because of its implications for public spending.

Ministers are due to publish a White Paper on the industry next month and most sources expected Mr Bowker's organisation to be reined in. Some observers believe, however, that the SRA chairman may be given a senior role in the new structure, although his critics will argue that such a post may be something of a "figleaf". Other senior figures assert that Mr Bowker is on his way out of the industry.

A spokesman for the SRA said the meeting had been called so that Mr Bowker could hear what the major operators had to say.