Passengers come last in rail plan

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER controversy over rail privatisation broke out yesterday when it was revealed that a system designed to improve reliability could end up penalising train operators for helping passengers make their connections if trains are running late.

The franchising director, Roger Salmon, has devised a new system to be introduced next year when privatised train companies start taking over some services. Delays to each train will be calculated - at between pounds 5 and pounds 20 per minute - and then the cost will be allocated to the train operating company responsible.

Staff working under the old British Rail system had the discretion whether to hold a train for passengers connecting from another late-running train.

Roger Ford, editor of Rail Privatisation News said: "If there were hundreds of people arriving on the incoming train and few on the departing one, then the connection would be held."Mr Ford said that there will be a temptation for cheaper trains to be delayed, irrespective of the number of people on them.

Labour's transport spokesman, Brian Wilson, said: "This is the ultimate in the mad-hatter railway which the Tories seem determined to create".

A spokesman for Mr Salmon's office said: "Train operators will be motivated by their duty to the passengers, not by concerns about these small penalties."

There were also accusations last night that Railtrack was being fattened up for privatisation after it emerged that the company, due to be privatised in the spring, is seeking pounds l00m in extra income from the Government to cover the cost of its inability to run trains on time.

The new deal takes into account compensation for the risks of meeting reliability and punctuality targets. The company felt that the potential losses were too great and that this would deter private investors.