Alcohol ban on trains planned to cut hooliganism

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The Independent Online

A train operator wants to ban alcohol from its services to reduce hooliganism.

Merseytravel says half the "antisocial" incidents on its trains involve alcohol. The operator, which runs services in the Merseyside area, is applying for a change in local laws to give police the power to confiscate bottles and cans containing alcohol. Officers will also be able to arrest anyone caught drinking.

There is no sign yet that any other rail company is keen to follow suit. A source at British Transport Police (BTP) said that longer-distance operators would be unenthusiastic about such a policy because buffet and trolley services were a profitable part of their businesses.

A spokesman for BTP said that under railway by-laws alcohol bans were in place when trains were chartered for football supporters. Discretion could be used where normal services were patronised by large numbers of fans.

Neil Scales, chief executive of Merseytravel, denied his organisation was trying to act like Big Brother. "We are just asking people to respect their fellow passengers while they are travelling."

A spokesman for Merseytravel said yesterday it would be applying for the law change in the next few weeks. "Then it's just a case of getting the government go-ahead," he said. Merseytravel runs 59 trains between 80 stations. If the Government agrees, alcohol could be banned within six months.

* Rail commuters across south-ern England face disruption caused by engineering work over the next nine months for the introduction of more power-hungry trains.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) said contractors would need to complete 1,500 separate projects before the middle of next year so that the new rolling stock could be fully introduced. The new trains are gradually replacing the old "slam door" rolling stock as part of a belated £3bn upgrade, which will involve a massive boost to the electricity supply.

Train operators have been forced to introduce the new trains gradually because the now defunct Railtrack failed to ensure that the power system was sufficiently robust. New regulations introduced in 1999 mean that all "slam door" trains should be taken out of service by December next year.

Launching the first phase of the work to upgrade the power supply, the Transport minister Kim Howells said that a "massive clanger" had been dropped when Railtrack failed to improve electricity supply at a time when operators were ordering the new trains.

He said "an inexplicable inheritance" had been passed on to the people now in charge of the industry. "I am not going to make excuses for decisions made in the past. It could have been a lot better," he said.

Mr Howells insisted that the national railway system was "superb" and that it would be getting a lot better.

Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, said he had inherited "a mess". The project, which involved the introduction of £2bn of new train carriages, was similar to rewiring a city the size of Portsmouth.

A spokesman for the SRA said that not all the 1,500 projects would involve closing routes. Some work would be done in the normal timetable while other overhauls would "piggy-back" on existing shutdowns.

A spokesman for Transport for London said the work was making up for many years of under-investment. "It is a useful foundation, but the next key stage is to increase capacity and not just replace new for old."