Budget Aftermath: Backing sought for West Coast rail line

WORK ON improving the West Coast main line, British Rail's worst performing major route, will not start until 1995 at the earliest as the Government searches for private sector finance.

Yesterday, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, told MPs that between pounds 400m and pounds 600m would be sought from a private backer to provide new infrastructure for the line last refurbished in the 1960s. There are no plans for new rolling stock.

Although the Government had already announced that no public money was available to improve the line, Mr MacGregor yesterday spelt out the process to attract private investors. It was immediately criticised as a delaying tactic.

There will be two competitions to attract the private sector. In the next few days, Railtrack, the quango which takes over BR's infrastructure in April, will put out to tender a contract seeking consultants to draw up a schedule of performance standards for the improved line. Then, in about a year's time, a consortium to build the line will be sought to provide new signalling and track between Crewe and London. The northern section would not be improved, casting doubt over the long-term commitment to run through trains from Euston to Glasgow.

Although Mr MacGregor said he was unable to go into detail about how the scheme will be paid for, he stressed that an element of risk would be passed to the private sector. Revenues would depend on the performance of the line and it would be up to franchisees to decide fare levels.

Revenue on the line - known to be loss-making - is currently pounds 280m and it is unclear how the investment of pounds 600m will be found without sharp fare increases. The line is not among the first group of seven where private sector franchises are being sought, but the Government intends to speed up the franchising process.

Mr MacGregor said: 'Involving the private sector will not cause any delay' and he hopes that work will start in 1995. However, this was rejected by Brian Wilson, Labour's transport spokesman, who said: 'It's a typical form of delay. You announce a study, and then you announce a competition. In fact, in this case, there's two competitions which will cause even more delay. It will be decades before this line is improved.'

Opponents also pointed out that the cost of improving the infrastructure on the line had now risen to pounds 600m, from BR's estimate two years ago of pounds 400m.

British Rail was forced to abandon that scheme, part of an pounds 800m plan to improve both the rolling stock and infrastructure, in 1992 because of the shortage of revenue caused by the recession.

This new scheme now involves only the infrastructure because, according to Roger Freeman, the minister for public transport: 'It would be wrong to order the rolling stock before the performance specifications for the line have been drawn up.'

Last March, a consortium of Balfour Beatty, GEC Alsthom and Trafalgar House suggested a scheme involving investing pounds 900m in the line but this proposal has been put in abeyance because of the Government's insistence that competition for all stages of the process must be sought.

British Rail was last night reported to be relatively pleased with its Budget settlement. It expects that there will be about pounds 1bn available for investment next year, roughly what it expected.

(Map omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam