Rail firms to recruit 800 more drivers

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THE GOVERNMENT announced a package of measures yesterday that would put more drivers and trains on the railways and give more power to the passenger. It said it was taking responsibility for delivering a good railway service within a year.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, unveiled a 10-point plan agreed with the 25 privatised train companies and Railtrack to solve the problems of unreliability and delays on the trains.

He said he had given them a final warning that those companies continuing to fail the passenger would have no future in the industry.

Government sources confirmed that this meant the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising would be told to terminate the contract with failing companies and hand over the trains to the dormant British Railways Board, as reported by The Independent yesterday.

The measures include:

Eight hundred new drivers to be recruited and trained to cut the number of trains cancelled because of the shortage of drivers, who were made redundant in the early days of privatisation.

Five hundred new vehicles to be introduced over the next year, of which half would replace ageing rolling stock.

A joint "hit squad" to be set up by Railtrack and the train companies to tackle the 50 worst blackspots.

Other measures included a "trouble-shooter" team to address punctuality problems, pledges for better-quality rolling stock, better maintenance of the track and signalling and a commitment to ensure a quicker response when problems arose.

The Government also announced plans to hold a public meeting, which it called a "National Railway Summit" in February for the rail industry to reveal more detailed plans.

Mr Prescott also revealed that passengers would have a say in whether companies remained in the industry as the official passenger satisfaction surveys would be included as one of the methods of measuring train performance.

However, doubts began to emerge over whether the package of measures were new initiatives or merely restating existing commitments.

It was still unclear whether the 800 new drivers would in fact replace those who have already taken early retirement. Government sources also confirmed that the 500 new vehicles were ones that had already been ordered.