Gatwick rail sale now one of six set for late 1995: 'Challenging' targets set for privatisation

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The Independent Online
GATWICK Express is no longer set to be the first railway line to be sold to the private sector, as the schedule for privatisation has been put back yet again to the end of 1995.

Instead, the Gatwick shuttle between Victoria station and the airport will be included in a group of half a dozen railway lines to be privatised simultaneously towards the end of next year.

Last month, the Government accepted it could not meet its target of privatising the first line sometime this year. At the same time, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, set the franchising director, Roger Salmon, the target of selling at least 51 per cent of the railway by April 1996, clearly with the aim of giving privatisation a proven track record by the time of the next general election.

At his first press conference yesterday, Mr Salmon published the schedule for all 25 franchises. He said the Government's timetable was 'very challenging', adding that all the lines would need a subsidy from his office, with the possible exception of the Gatwick shuttle.

Mr Salmon admitted that the timetable for privatisation is heavily dependent 'on the way in which the market responds to the new business opportunities available'.

The first six - representing about a third of national rail revenue - will now be privatised simultaneously, with six separate teams working for Mr Salmon's Office of Passenger Rail Franchising preparing and processing the tenders.

Potential private sector operators would then have financial information from a year's 'shadow franchising', which started on five of these lines on 1 April this year and on Gatwick Express last October.

In order to meet Mr MacGregor's target, a further two or three lines from the second group of seven, which have a target date of the end of 1996, will have to be sold off by 1 April 1996.

No date has been given for the remaining group of 13, but although Mr Salmon denied that they had been 'put on the back burner', most of them are fraught with difficulties because of the involvement of local passenger transport executives, or because they will be affected by new railway developments such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, or Crossrail.

This third group includes the tiny Isle of Wight line, which had originally been scheduled for early privatisation as the only 'vertically integrated' franchise which includes both the track and railway operations. Unforeseen complexities, and an unwillingness by Mr Salmon to commit resources to selling the line, means that it is no longer a priority.

FRANCHISES TO BE SOLD

IN 1995

East Coast Main Line (InterCity)

Gatwick Express (InterCity)

Great Western Main Line (InterCity)

London, Tilbury & Southend (Network SouthEast)

ScotRail (Regional Railways)

South West (NSE)

IN 1996

Anglia (InterCity and Regional Railways)

Cardiff Valleys (Regional Railways)

Merseyrail (Regional Railways)

Midland Main Line (InterCity)

South London and Sussex Coast Lines (NSE)

South Wales and West (Regional Railways)

West Coast Main Line (InterCity)

FRANCHISES FOR SALE LATER

Central Region (Regional Railways)

Chiltern Line (NSE)

Cross Country (InterCity)

Great Eastern (NSE)

Kent Link and Kent Coast Lines (NSE)

Northampton and North London Lines (NSE)

North East Region (Regional Railways)

Thames (NSE)

Thameslink (NSE)

West Anglia and Great Northern (NSE)

Isle of Wight (NSE)

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