New shaming for rail firms

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PRIVATISED RAIL companies will face further pressure this week to improve services as new figures by the rail watchdog, Opraf, show a continuing catalogue of lateness, delay and cancellations.

The report on rail services for last autumn will give D grades to several rail companies. The new grading system, to be published on Thursday, will show companies earlier warned to do better have subjected passengers to even worse delays. Companies which have improved will get an A or B, those that performed satisfactorily receive a C and diabolical services get D or E grades.

Punctuality on Thames Trains, which runs services from London to the Midlands, Cardiff Railways, Chiltern trains and some Connex services has deteriorated since last autumn. Silverlink and North Western are other companies expected to face criticism for poor performance.

The report covers the period from September to December 1998, including the incident involving Virgin Trains that stranded ministers heading for their party conference in Blackpool.

The figures will be closely scrutinised by John Prescott, Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions, who is expected to deliver a sharp rebuke to rail directors in two weeks when he convenes a rail summit with all main operators and rail-policy groups. He will shortly name the chairman of a new Strategic Rail Authority. The favourite candidate is Sir Alastair Morton, former chairman of Eurotunnel.