pounds 1bn spruce-up for stations on wrong side of the tracks

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The Independent Online
A pounds 1bn programme to renovate Britain's crumbling railway stations was launched yesterday by Railtrack.

The company, which owns the nation's track, signalling and 2,500 stations, will embark on an ambitious plan which includes roof renewals, reglazing and repairs to hundreds of poorly-maintained buildings.

Railtrack will also be ensuring that station facilities are improved along with passenger information systems, footbridges and platforms.

Sir Robert Horton, chairman of the company, said: "This is a very, very exciting day for the railways and our programme will give a huge boost to every station throughout the country.

"Stations are the most visible part of our responsibility - they are our shop window. They should not be drab or grey. We have some magnificent stations and we intend to restore these precious buildings to their full glory."

The company also hopes that it will not be hit hard by the Government's proposed windfall levy. "I have no information on the windfall tax or whether it applies to Railtrack," Sir Robert said.

Dilapidated stations have long been the target of traveller's ire. A recent survey by the London Regional Passengers Committee found stations in south London, including Tooting,Wimbledon Chase and Banstead were "dirty" and had "major problems" with "extensive graffiti and vandalism".

The new management said the criticism lies mainly with British Rail. "I think that it is fair to say that under BR's stewardship the focus was on rolling stock and track and signalling work. After all only pounds 30m a year was spent on infrastructure," said Bob Hill, Railtrack's director of property.

The company's managers also hope that its new spending plans will find favour with John Swift QC, the Rail Regulator, who last December described the company's level of maintenance spending as "wholly unacceptable".

Labour's transport team had made it clear before the election that legislation would be drafted to force Railtrack to meet its investment commitments unless the company addressed the problem itself.

With more than pounds 1bn committed to "deliver the world's best railway", laws are unlikely to hit the statute book.

Save Our Railways, the rail pressure group, welcomed the spending plans but said it remains to be "convinced that the plans will turn Britain's stations into the safe, secure and modern facilities that passengers are entitled to".

Some of the biggest stations, including London Paddington, Edinburgh Waverley, London Waterloo and Glasgow Central, will be refurbished. Regeneration budgets range from tens of thousands of pounds for a lick of paint to major developments costing pounds 50m per station.

Work will begin on more than 300 stations this year, with the remaining 2,200 upgraded by 2001. There are also plans to allow train companies to offer franchises ranging from retailers to medical surgeries, giving passengers the chance to buy a dental check-up on the station.

Also being considered are high-tech "hot desking" offices - where travellers could be charged for the use of modems, faxes and phones while they wait for their trains.

The best and the worst

Five of the best

KING'S CROSS, LONDON - 1996 Station of the Year. High standard of service for passengers and the subject of a successful clean up.

BIRMINGHAM INTERNATIONAL - Good signs, bright and attractive station, good facilities for the disabled.

BICESTER NORTH, OXFORDSHIRE - Well-restored Edwardian station, particularly brightened by plants.

WYMONDHAM, NORFOLK - An unstaffed station "adopted" by the owner of a piano salesroom. He has installed a "Brief Encounter" tea room, named after the rail station movie.

WATERLOO INTERNATIONAL, LONDON - The Channel tunnel Eurostar train terminal has won design awards for its dramatic roof and futuristic look.

Five of the worst

MORTLAKE/SELHURST - The two stations top Railtrack's hit-list for urgent repairs.

SOUTH GREENFORD, WEST LONDON - One of the platforms had to be demolished because of embankment subsidence.

FROME, SOMERSET - A crumbling platform and buildings, peeling paint and graffiti.

NORTHWICH, CHESHIRE - The station has no staff and the building has been boarded up and left to rot.

BUGLE, CORNWALL - Rail campaigners claim: "You would never know there was a station there." There are no signs from the road, no timetable, a demolished shelter and no name of the station anywhere to be seen.