BR could lose lines to foreign bidders

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FOREIGN railway companies will be able to bid for rail services even though British Rail will be prevented from doing so after privatisation, according to the official responsible for organising the transfer of services to the private sector.

In his first public speech Roger Salmon, the franchising director heading the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (OPRAF), part of the Department of Transport, told a London conference 'all bidders will be welcome and will be treated equally', although BR is effectively prevented from bidding if there are other suitable candidates.

Mr Salmon accepted this might mean taxpayers' money going abroad since franchisees will receive subsidies to run loss-making lines, but said this would result in more efficient services.

He also warned that tickets issued by rival operators running on the same route would not necessarily be interchangeable. This problem has already been identified by some passenger groups as a major difficulty of privatisation as it would restrict train passenger's choice, particularly on return rail journeys.

The first franchise, Gatwick Express, is likely to be offered for tenders in the middle of next year, and start operating in the private sector late next year or early 1995.

Frank Dobson, Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'As the Government won't allow BR to bid, they are now in the absurd position whereby publicly-owned European railways can. These bids must be likely to succeed as they will be the only bidders with experience of running a railway, so British taxpayers will end up paying the bills of other national rail networks.'