Eddington report to call for rail overhaul

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The Independent Online

Double-decker trains and more use of existing rail networks will be proposed today by Sir Rod Eddington, the former British Airways chief brought in to advise the government on tackling Britain's creaking transport network.

He will warn that the system is reaching near-saturation point and long-term targeted improvements are needed to avoid damage to the economy.

However, the report was already being criticised last night by business leaders and Opposition spokesman for being "too timid". Chris Grayling, the Tory transport spokesman, said the independence of the report had to be questioned. "It looks as though it has been sat on by the Treasury," he said.

The report is expected to avoid endorsing a new high-speed rail link from the Channel to the North of England and the introduction of magnetic levitation trains, known as Maglev, which could travel at up to 300mph, on grounds of cost.

Instead, Sir Rod supports putting greater emphasis on improving existing networks by identifying and tackling bottlenecks on the railways. He suggests squeezing more capacity out of the rail system by improving signalling to allow trains to run more closely together, and increasing the length of platforms to take longer trains.

The report will endorse road pricing on British roads by 2015 but it will not foreshadow a major expansion of road building. "It's not a return to the Tories' Road to Prosperity white paper," said a senior Whitehall source. "He will say that the UK broadly has the right transport network, connecting to the right places, but key points are showing signs of increasing congestion and unreliability."

The Institute of Directors said last night it would be disappointed unless Sir Rod proposed more roads with road pricing to tackle gridlock. "What we need now is for politicians to make long-term transport decisions even if it means short-term political pain," said Miles Templeman, director general of the IOD.

Sir Rod was required to go with the grain of the Government's drive to reduce carbon emissions in the wake of the Stern report on climate change and Treasury sources said it would not conflict with the Stern findings. Friends of the Earth underlined the difficulty Sir Rod faced in striking a balance by warning last night that the report would be judged a failure unless it recommended increasing productivity while cutting carbon emissions.

Sir Rod, the former chief executive of BA, supports the existing plans for expansion of airports but will say that aviation should be included in the EU carbon trading scheme.

His report was delayed while it produced a cost-benefit analysis with an assessment of the impact of his proposals on Britain's GDP. Rather than expensive new South-North rail links, the report recommends improvements between cities across the Pennines, such as Liverpool and Hull, Manchester and Leeds; double-decker and longer trains.

On the roads, Sir Rod will recommend small-scale projects to tackle local bottlenecks.

The Tories said last night that the 30-year timescale was too long and he should not have ruled out new high-speed rail links. "He is saying there should be no big projects. We say that is premature," said Mr Grayling. "But we are saying we don't want to see an early move to a national untested road-pricing scheme."

Priorities identified by the Tories include increasing capacity into the City of London and Canary Wharf, designated growth areas in the Thames Gateway, congestion in Birmingham, and inadequate services in the West of England.