Railtrack to take over part of Tube

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The Independent Online
PASSENGERS COULD travel from Heathrow to the City of London on links to be built as part of a pounds 7bn shake-up of the Underground system.

Railtrack, the company that controls the tracks for Britain's rail network, will be allowed to bid for the contract to run Tube services on the Circle, District, Metropolitan, Hammersmith and City and East London lines for up to 30 years, in return for major private investment - including new links between Railtrack's existing mainline track.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said yesterday: "This plan opens up exciting new possibilities for integration between surface and Underground rail, providing fast new connections between all the major transport hubs, including London's five airports and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link terminals. This plan will deliver a joined-up London."

The Underground could be broken into three sectors, with other consortiums being invited to bid to run services on deeper-level Tube lines such as the Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines, which could be far more costly to modernise, and from which Railtrack will be excluded.

The Heathrow Express, the link that terminates at Padd-ington, could be extended by Railtrack to the City, and other parts of the Underground could be connected through new tunnels to Railtrack's mainline stations across the capital. Mr Prescott said new services could run directly from Brighton, via London Gatwick and east London, to north London and beyond.

Once these were in place, all five London airports, including Stansted, Luton and the City airport, would have direct rail links into and through London, all connecting with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

The proposed deal would leave the Tube in public ownership through London Underground, with a total estimated pounds 7bn raised in private investment.

The City is likely to see Railtrack's deal as attractive, but it will be coupled with tougher regulation of its mainline operations, including new powers to allow the new rail regulator to pay the public subsidy direct to Railtrack, giving the taxpayer more control over the company's delivery of services.

The decision to give Railtrack sole rights to bid for the contract to run the Underground's near-surface lines raised objections from sceptical Labour MPs, including Gwyneth Dunwoody, the chairman of the cross-party Commons Select Committee on Transport, who said the company was failing to meet its performance targets and was more concerned with its profits and share price than with serving passengers.

John Redwood, the newly appointed Tory spokesman on the environment, transport and the regions, said the Tube had deteriorated under Labour, and said Mr Prescott's decision to cancel Tory plans for full privatisation of the Underground had left a hole in the accounts.

Attacking Mr Prescott as "two Jags", Mr Redwood - also the owner of a Jaguar - suggested Mr Prescott only travelled on the Tube for photo opportunities and claimed his plan meant "continuing delays and chaos on the Underground".