Darling summit to expose infighting over rail network

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Rail company directors and politicians will be at daggers drawn today over the best way to improve Britain's ramshackle train services.

Rail company directors and politicians will be at daggers drawn today over the best way to improve Britain's ramshackle train services.

The running battle between the main "stakeholders" in the industry will surface in a high-profile debate, sponsored by the Department for Transport, over the future of the industry.

The state-backed infrastructure organisation Network Rail (NR) will deride the ambitions of the big train operating companies which want to take over responsibility for maintaining the network.

The train operators, however, will attack NR's plan to assume responsibility for stations. And Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, will defend his proposal to take over services in the capital which has been denounced as "recipe for chaos".

The Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, is undertaking a fundamental review of the industry following growing concerns that it has become a black hole for taxpayers' money. Today's contributions from the stakeholders will almost certainly confirm the Mr Darling's view that order must be imposed from above on a system riven with conflict.

Train companies are furious over NR's submission to the review on the issue of stations. Senior figures at the companies believe the infrastructure organisation should "concentrate on its day job".

Under the present regime NR leases the vast majority of stations to train companies which undertake most but not all of the maintenance. The infrastructure company runs 17 stations in the big cities, but leases out the other 2,500.

John Armitt, the chief executive of NR, argues that the arrangement is too complex. It means that in many cases his company is responsible for station roofs but not for platforms.

Train operators argue, however, that NR has no experience in dealing direct with passengers and would be unable to invest in the stations because as a state-backed organisation it would be forced to use taxpayers' money to do so.

George Muir, the head of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said his members were best-placed to run the stations. "Network Rail should focus on being a better landlord," he said.

The preference of the big train operators for "vertical integration", whereby they would be responsible for both "wheel and rail", will be bitterly opposed by NR.

It prefers the system of "virtual integration" where all competing interests co-operate more informally under one "fat controller".

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