Train operators call for longer franchises

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The Independent Online

Train operators should be given longer franchises to encourage them to invest more in the upkeep of dilapidated rail stations, the head of the industry body will say today.

Chairman of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) Tom Smith will tell the UK Rail Stations conference that a National Stations Trust should be set up to allow part of the operators' payments to the Government to be set aside to repair run-down stations.

He is expected to say: "With a handful of honourable exceptions, stations have been at the neglected end of railway funding priorities. It is welcome that the question of how much money we should spend on our stations is rising up the political agenda.

"The current arrangements as to who owns and manages stations are too complex and leave train companies with little or no incentive or opportunity to invest. Targeted reform that gives train companies a greater stake in stations would bring in much more private funding and encourage operators to take a longer term approach.

"We need to move to a situation where train companies become responsible for the whole station and its upkeep. As private sector operators we have a real incentive to respond to passengers' needs and would be able to do the job more efficiently than it is done at the moment."

He will say that train stations should be treated as a "long-term, national asset", and add: "Just as the National Trust has protected and improved so many historic buildings - so too the creation of a National Stations Trust would carry out a similar role.

Currently, the freeholder of most train stations is Network Rail and train companies lease the buildings.