Railway firms warned: Improve or else

THE GOVERNMENT showed its determination yesterday to crack down on the railway industry, warning train firms to improve their performance and announcing plans to replace the rail regulator.

Failing train companies were given a stark warning by the Government to run the trains on time or lose their franchise.

John Reid, the new Transport minister, told an audience that included some of the top figures in the industry: "The current level of performance is not acceptable and it cannot continue. Passengers and taxpayers are not getting a fair deal on the railways. Improving the level of service is a top priority."

He warned that the existing performance of the train operators would be a "key criterion" when it came to deciding who won the franchises, which start to come up for renewal in 2003.

He singled out companies that just managed to meet their contractual commitments but which treated passenger complaints as an "unnecessary nuisance" and which cut costs at the expense of passengers.

"They will not have a long -term future in this industry," Dr Reid warned. "I cannot be any plainer in what I am saying. When it comes to the situation when these assessments are being made, let no one say, `You did not tell us that'."

In a separate move John Swift, the rail regulator, announced he is to quit his post at the end of his five-year term at the end of November, ending months of speculation that the Government was considering sacking him. He said his decision followed talks with John Prescott, the Secretary of State for Transport, yesterday.

Mr Prescott had "made clear to me that he wishes to make a new appointment for the whole term of five years," Mr Swift said. "I said that I would not wish to serve the full five-year term and have agreed therefore to step down at the end of November."

A spokesman for Mr Prescott said: "The Deputy Prime Minister is grateful for the good work Mr Swift has done, the work that is in hand and for his general co-operation in this matter."

It is understood, however, that Mr Swift was seen as too soft on Railtrack, which has seen its share price and profits surge since privatisation, and on the rolling stock companies, whose managers have made a small fortune.

The first task of the new regulator will be to review the charges paid to Railtrack by the train operating companies. These form 90 per cent of Railtrack's revenues.

Dr Reid's comments and the news of Mr Swift's decision to quit came after a series of statistics showing a marked fall in standards in the first full year of privatisation.

The Government is understood to be considering plans to give the new regulator powers to levy instant fines of pounds 1m when trains are repeatedly cancelled or late.

Dr Reid did little to dampen speculation that Mr Prescott had failed to win a promise from Tony Blair that his plans for a powerful Strategic Rail Authority would be in the Queen's Speech in November.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all