SRA chief lobbies Cabinet to keep rail body's power intact

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The Independent Online

Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, is mounting a last ditch fight-back against plans to strip him and his organisation of their powers, it emerged yesterday.

Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, is mounting a last ditch fight-back against plans to strip him and his organisation of their powers, it emerged yesterday.

Mr Bowker is lobbying at Cabinet level to prevent the SRA being relieved of its independence and reduced to the level of a government agency.

The SRA chairman wants his organisation to be merged with the state-backed infrastructure company Network Rail as a kind of British Rail mark II under his leadership.

The future of the SRA and Network Rail is under scrutiny by ministers who are due to publish a White Paper on the rail industry next month. Under one possible scenario, so far favoured by the Department for Transport, Network Rail would take over many of the powers of the SRA. The authority would become a low-key organisation simply awarding train franchises. Mr Bowker is attempting to enlist the support of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, for his blueprint, which would preserve the SRA's status within an even more powerful organisation.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed yesterday that Network Rail chiefs are to receive bonuses worth nearly a quarter of their basic salaries despite failing to meet all their performance targets. John Armitt, the chief executive of the state-backed company, is to get £112,320, while the deputy chief executive, Iain Coucher, will be paid £99,840, representing 24 per cent of their basic pay.

The rises were awarded despite the organisation's failure to meet its target for train punctuality during 2003-4.

While the group hit targets for cost savings and the condition of the infrastructure, it managed to achieve only a 7 per cent reduction in delay-minutes, against a target of 10 per cent, in the year to 31 March.

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