Hundreds of rail station upgrades abandoned in cutbacks

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The Independent Online

An ambitious initiative to modernise nearly half of Britain's decaying railway stations has been all but abandoned because of cost cutting.

Rail chiefs wanted to renovate 1,000 stations, but have decided there is only enough money for 68. Hundreds of stations will be left without lavatories, waiting rooms, passenger security and information systems.

The government's Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has decided that only 13 of the 68 will have lavatories, just one will get a public address system, five will get waiting rooms and only 19 will benefit from closed circuit television (CCTV). The authority has also said that public toilets should be removed from 25 stations.

Spending on the stations has been cut from £53.4m to £25.6m after an investigation by Tom Winsor, the rail regulator. News of the cuts to investment in the rail network calls into question the Government's 10-year plan, which was meant to lure people out of their cars and on to trains. Under the strategy announced in 2000 by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, the number of passengers using trains was to have expanded by 50 per cent in a decade. Observers believe that ministers will be lucky to achieve half that level. Anthony Smith, director of the Rail Passengers' Council, said there seemed to be no immediate way of bridging the funding gap.

"There may be lots of new trains and they may have been able to improve performance, but there will still be lots of shabby stations. It's a real concern that a project to improve stations has shrunk so dramatically.''

The news follows a series of announcements by the SRA aimed at controlling soaring costs after a cut in state funds for the network.

Maintenance on branch lines is to be reduced substantially, which will mean more speed restrictions. Engineering work will be done during the day, when it is less expensive than at night, but will mean more interruption to services.

Mr Winsor has ordered network rail to cut its proposed maintenance budget and warned that the modernisation of the west coast main line may never be completed, to save money.

A spokesman for the SRA said the authority was directing resources to north-west England and East Anglia and that £25m was still a considerable investment. "We are making a start, but we want to do more. We are working within financial constraints.''

He said thousands of passengers using the 68 stations would see "real benefit''. Many of the stations did not have CCTV, or waiting rooms at present and where they did the facilities would be improved.

Merseytravel, the transport authority in Liverpool, accepted the SRA had "made a start'' in north-west England. "However, over the next five years we would want to see substantially more progress in stations ... that people visiting the European City of Culture would expect,'' a spokesperson said. Liverpool will achieve the international standard in 2008.

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