Blair sends in 'hit squad' to improve failing railways

The Prime Minister has ordered a Downing Street "hit squad'' into failing train operators in a desperate attempt to improve rail services. In frustration with Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, and Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, Tony Blair has sent senior aides to franchise holders to get a grip on the network.

The involvement of members of the Downing Street policy unit highlights Mr Blair's concern that despite billions of pounds extra in taxpayers' money, the system shows few signs of significant improvement ahead of a probable general election in 18 months.

Mr Blair is targeting Sir Richard Branson's Virgin CrossCountry network, the South Central franchise, which covers London to the south coast, Thameslink, the operator between Brighton and Bedford, and Central Trains, which run trains throughout the Midlands and the north of England. They have been selected because they are "under-performing'' andofficials believe they form a microcosm of the network.

Senior executives at the rail companies resent Mr Blair's intervention, saying Mr Bowker's SRA is already far more intrusive than it used to be, and demanding substantial amounts of detailed information. A senior railman said: "We are being audited to death. This is a diversion. I want to get on with my day job of running the railways.''

Mr Blair would say some operators have shown themselves incapable of running the railways. No 10 is not only dissatisfied with the punctuality and reliability of services, it is also unhappy with targets for improvement set by the ministry and the SRA.

Anxiety over voters' perception of the industry's performance has prompted a review to be completed in the summer. The inquiry is expected to result in a more streamlined management system with fewer organisations involved and with the SRA stripped of much of its power.

Mr Darling has indicated he would be prepared to introduce legislation to place the SRA on a different footing. Some senior sources believe the authority is an unnecessary layer of management and that logically the Department for Transport should be fully in charge of strategy. An unpublished SRA strategy document, leaked to The Independent, confirmed that all the money earmarked in the Government's 10-year plan for a railway "fit for the 21st century'' is being spent on patching up the network. The draft paper reveals that the target of increasing the number of passengers by 50 per cent in the 10-year plan would be undershot. It estimatedt the increase would be 26 per cent. One observer said that the whole exercise might show Mr Blair how difficult it was to enhance performance without considerably more investment.

A spokeswoman for Downing Street said: "It is well known that the delivery unit worked closely with the departments to improve public services. Transport is one of the important issues.''

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable