Rail chiefs lambasted over Livingstone plans

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The Independent Online

The battle over the future of Britain's rail industry intensified yesterday when the Government attacked rail chiefs for failing to engage in a "grown-up debate".

The battle over the future of Britain's rail industry intensified yesterday when the Government attacked rail chiefs for failing to engage in a "grown-up debate".

Tony McNulty, the Transport minister, condemned the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and the infrastructure company Network Rail (NR) for dismissing proposals from Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London.

Mr Livingstone yesterday unveiled detailed plans to take over suburban commuter rail services, but they had already been criticised by the two rail organisations following a report in The Independent.

Under the scheme a London Regional Rail Authority would be established to integrate the suburban rail network with the capital's Tube, bus and road systems. John Armitt, NR's chief executive, had branded Mr Livingstone's plan a "recipe for chaos". An SRA spokesman had added: "It is a bad idea and we are opposed to it."

But Mr McNulty said the proposals had been rejected before anyone had seen the detail. "This is not the substantial grown-up debate we need," he said.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Department for Transport, Richard Bowker, chairman of the SRA, was yesterday more measured in his assessment. He said that while Transport for London should have an input into decisions about the rail network in the capital, it should not be a "dominant" influence.

A submission to the Government from the Association of Train Operating Companies also opposes Mr Livingstone's plan.

Yesterday's official seminar was the first of a series of debates as part of the Government's review of the network launched in January.

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