Prescott launches transport 'vision'

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The Independent Online

John Prescott yesterday unveiled his "vision" of transport over the next decade and promised investment of "at least" £80bn.

John Prescott yesterday unveiled his "vision" of transport over the next decade and promised investment of "at least" £80bn.

In a major policy speech, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Transport, Environment and the Regions trumpeted his success in winning the approval of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, for "additional" public money to be pumped into transport.

But there was no figure for the extra money and much of the £80bn is "old money" relating to projects that have already been announced. Some of it will have to come from the private sector, and some from road tolls, workplace parking fees and fuel-tax increases.

Mr Prescott wants it to be known that as far as transport is concerned, Tony Blair and Mr Brown have agreed to look beyond the normal three-yearly financial cycle. Here are some of the main points of his speech:

Tackling road congestion, bypasses

As part of Mr Prescott's new "car-friendly" image, he has asked the Highways Agency to look at more "pinch-points" deserving of investment. Some 19 bypasses are under construction, and the agency has been asked to assess if there should be any more. Money to be made available from fuel tax, from "congestion charging" in cities and public-private partnerships. Clear U-turn by the Government, revealed earlier this month when the Transport Bill was published.

No target for cutting road usage

Mr Prescott accepted that targets for cutting road usage should be abandoned following advice from the government-appointed Integrated Transport Commission. He now believes that a growing economy makes such targets impossible.

Newer, safer stations

This is an extension of the existing secure stations initiative operated by Railtrack and the British Transport Police. The scheme provides CCTV at designated stations and a secure, well-maintained environment. Save Our Railways argues that the Strategic Rail Authority should insist that all stations meet the standard.

All new or refurbished trains by 2010

Much of the rolling stock is due for renewal anyway. And what does "refurbished" mean - a lick of paint? New antimacassars? This is one of the vaguer promises.

Tilting trains

Virgin is introducing tilting trains on its west-coast route in June 2002 when they will be permitted a maximum speed of 125mph. With improved signalling, the trains will reach 140mph in 2005. Silverlink is planning to buy similar trains to win access to the fast track between London and Birmingham. The new rolling stock will enable higher speeds without replacing the track. Mr Prescott gave no idea of where or when it might be introduced.

Renewal of all main rail lines

This will take billions of pounds of investment if it means that the busiest long distance routes are to be placed on a par with the west-coast mainline under reconstruction.

'One-stop' information

Under the chairmanship of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, an industry steering group is already planning a passenger inquiry bureau which is due to start next year. Originally, the Government said it would be in operation from this month. The telephone service will aim to provide full information on how to get from one end of the country to another using all forms of public transport and is expected to cost around £12-£13m to establish.

'Through ticketing'

Foreshadowed in the 1998 transport White Paper, the arrival of a ticket which will take you all over Britain on any convenient form of transport is some way away. One of the best "local" examples is in London where the Travelcard allows commuters complete flexibility in given areas of the capital.

Light-rail systems

This includes track-based systems and trams running through city streets. In the 1998 White paper, Mr Prescott made clear his view that light-rail systems were too expensive. However, local authorities and pressure groups have argued that they can be invaluable in some areas. The new systems are likely be funded through public-private partnerships.

Synchronised traffic lights

"Bus friendly" lights which give priority to buses. Already operating in cities including Birmingham and Leeds.

Satellite bus tracking

Satellites track buses and relay the information to electronic signs at each stop telling passengers how long they will have to wait. Already operating in Southampton. Both synchronised lights and satellite tracking will be introduced under the Government's "quality partnerships" between local authorities and bus operators.

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