New trains promised for Kent commuters

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The Independent Online
Kent commuters travelling on some of the oldest trains on the rail network were promised new trains within three years under the terms of a franchise put on the market yesterday by Roger Salmon, the official in charge of the sale of passenger rail services.

The successful bidder for the South Eastern Trains franchise will be required to provide new rolling stock, according to Mr Salmon, who said: "I am inviting bids on the basis of a 15-year franchise, which requires replacement within three years of South Eastern's slam-door rolling stock." Normally franchises are for seven years which does not allow enoughtime for a bidder to buy new trains.

The existing trains, some of which date back to 1957, are likely to reach the end of the line by 1999. The franchise is expected to be awarded by the end of the summer. Opponents of privatisation point out that British Rail would have bought new trains for the line by now but was prevented from doing so by the privatisation process.

Network South East was to have received 100 new Networker trains between 1995 and 1997, many of which would have been for South Eastern, but the order was not proceeded with because of uncertainty over privatisation. Jonathan Bray, co-ordinator of the Save Our Railways campaign, said: "The whole plant at ABB York [now Adtranz] has now been closed down because of the failure to proceed with the order. It is unclear who will now be able to build these trains."

Mr Bray said the trains would have had to be replaced anyway and that commuters on South West Trains and Network South Central - which also needed new trains - were not getting new fleets, but those franchises "were not issued just before a key Commons debate".

The privatisation plans for Railtrack are also causing concern to City lawyers, who are worried that the company's prospectus gives an over- optimistic picture of the risks faced by prospective investors, following the leak on Tuesday of a letter from John Welsby, the BR chairman, to Sir Patrick Brown, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport, expressing similar concerns.

The lawyers are surprised that the Railtrack Pathfinder prospectus, published on Monday, makes no reference to a number of risks highlighted in the Passenger Rail Industry Overview published a year ago and issued to prospective bidders for train operating companies. One bidder, who has studied both documents said: "It is surprising how little detail there is about the performance regime which may well affect Railtrack's future profitability."

Under the regime, Railtrack is liable to pay compensation to train operating companies if failures to the track or signalling cause delays. In particular, figures on Railtrack's past performance are not included, even though they are available.

One lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous because he is acting for a number of rail industry clients, said: "We were surprised at the lack of information in the Pathfinder."

City sources close to the flotation claimed that it was only a presentational problem because the Passenger Overview consolidated all the risk analysis in a five page chapter while in the Pathfinder prospectus it is scattered throughout the document. They added that the prospectus is legally the expression of the views of the directors of Railtrack and they "are perfectly entitled to differ in their views from Mr Welsby".

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