Councils warn rail sell-off may damage local services

LOCAL COUNCILS are warning that rail privatisation threatens to damage services in metropolitan areas where currently they provide more than pounds 200m of subsidy and investment each year, writes Christian Wolmar.

The authorities feel that the debate on privatisation has ignored rail networks that are operated by British Rail with financial support from local councils, which also specify the level of service.

Signals for a Better Future, a report published today by the authorities and Regional Railways, the BR subsidiary which runs local services outside the South-east, argues that local authorities have played a key role in improving rail services in the seven areas where there are Passenger Transport Executives - Strathclyde, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.

This year, the seven transport executives are investing pounds 96.6m in infrastructure and providing pounds 123.3m to support services, money which comes out of local authority budgets. The report warns that this level of support 'depends on a consistent and reliable financial regime', that could be upset by privatisation.

Phil Swann, of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said: 'There is a danger that track charges could go up dramatically, resulting in increased fares, rising subsidies or reduced services.'