Railways revamp casts a shadow over future of SRA chairman Bowker

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The Independent Online

The future of Britain's £350,000 a year rail chief Richard Bowker was uncertain last night as ministers desperately cast around for a new role for him in the revamped industry.

The future of Britain's £350,000 a year rail chief Richard Bowker was uncertain last night as ministers desperately cast around for a new role for him in the revamped industry.

A White Paper due out on Thursday will signal a massive boost to the powers of the infrastructure company Network Rail, but the organisation has told ministers Mr Bowker has no place in its hierarchy.

Mr Bowker is chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) which will in effect be abolished in the "streamlined" set-up planned by the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling. The Department for Transport is expected to take over the "strategic" elements of the SRA's functions and Network Rail will assume responsibility for monitoring the performance of the train operating companies. Key to the new powers of the infrastructure organisation will be a completely new "Network Code" - the bible of the industry - which will give it greater control of the train operators. A small government agency will take over the duty of awarding franchises for the provision of passenger services.

The SRA chairman has powerful allies at Number 10, but has incurred the deep displeasure of the Treasury because of his seeming inability to deliver improvements in the ramshackle network despite massive injections of taxpayers' money. The Treasury is unhappy about Mr Bowker being given another senior role in the industry, but is equally keen that he will not be granted nearly £900,000 which would be due under his contract if he were forced out.

It is thought that Mr Bowker could remain at the SRA until legislation is passed setting up the new structure. That may take until next spring.

An SRA spokesman said: "It isn't for anybody at Network Rail to decide what happens to Richard Bowker, it is a matter for the Secretary of State. Network Rail should focus on getting the network right, not attempt to fix their own position." He said Mr Bowker would stay to ensure a smooth transition period.

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