SRA reforms won't get out of the station, says railway regulator

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The Independent Online

Tom Winsor has waded into the debate over the future of Britain's rail industry by labelling as unworkable proposals by the Strategic Rail Authority.

Tom Winsor has waded into the debate over the future of Britain's rail industry by labelling as unworkable proposals by the Strategic Rail Authority.

The head of the Office of the Rail Regulator will outline his own ideas for the industry on Wednesday. But speaking to The Independent on Sunday he said that, if implemented, the SRA's ideas would weaken Network Rail and force the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, to break a promise made to Parliament.

The SRA's chairman, Richard Bowker, revealed his response to the Government's rail review last week with plans for a new Railways Agency and a beefed-up Network Rail. The Railways Agency would set the strategic direction for the industry, combining many of the functions of the SRA and the rail regulator.

Mr Winsor's concerns are focused on the SRA's plans to create a second organisation called National Rail. This would fuse the SRA's franchising functions with Network Rail in an effort to align the interest of the track owners and the train operators.

But Mr Winsor said: "It would appear that a train operating company would be under obligation to the franchising arm of Network Rail to deliver performance. In order to [do] that it would be reliant on Network Rail to deliver the infrastructure. Therefore, Network Rail would have a conflict of interest.

"Network Rail could take action against a train operator for underperforming, but the operator could in turn take action against Network Rail for not delivering the infrastructure. This may provide the perverse incentive for Network Rail not to hold the train operators to account."

Mr Winsor also pointed out that the SRA's proposals would go against a statement Mr Darling made to Parliament on 9 February. "He said that the outcome of the rail review would have no effect on the rights of third parties. The SRA's proposals, as I understand them, would have a material effect."

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