Regulator gives rail firms more time to tell when trains run

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The Independent Online

The new rail regulator was under fire last night for granting the industry another year to comply with its obligation to give passengers a legal minimum notice of train times.

The new rail regulator was under fire last night for granting the industry another year to comply with its obligation to give passengers a legal minimum notice of train times.

The newly constituted Office of Rail Regulation has given Network Rail (NR) until September 2005 to meet its obligation to give customers 12 weeks' notice.

The decision by Chris Bolt, chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation, who has taken over from the hardline Tom Winsor, was greeted with dismay by some train company sources. The Rail Passengers' Council (RPC) said it would be arguing that the industry should be made to deliver much faster. One senior operator was sceptical that NR would meet the objective. "We've heard these deadlines before," he said.

Anthony Smith, the national director of the RPC, said he was "very disappointed" about the decision. "Passengers are only able to access cheap tickets if they are given reasonable advanced notice of the trains for which they are valid. Well it's not been happening. The Rail Regulator should make Network Rail deliver much quicker than this."

Passengers had found that they could not book cheap fares on off-peak services during the August Bank Holiday. Long-distance operators were unable to say whether they would run particular services because of NR's engineering work.

Industry sources said NR and its predecessor, Railtrack, had failed to comply fully with the regulations since the Hatfield disaster in 2000. Under yesterday's decision, improvements will be staged so full compliance will be met next year.

From 20 November, passengers will have to be given four weeks' notice. The regulator's office said this would improve on the situation during the August bank holiday period when some information was only available "less than one week" in advance.

The regulator pointed out that this meant travellers would have accurate information at the beginning of December for journeys to be undertaken over Christmas and the New Year. Under the plan, customers will be given a minimum six weeks' notice from 21 May. From 23 July the notice period will be ten weeks.

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