Rail chief regrets spin doctor's gibe

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The Independent Online

Britain's rail chief has been forced to make a humiliating apology after his spin doctor described Tom Winsor, the rail regulator, as little more than a supermarket "price-checker".

In a letter in today's The Independent, Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, expresses his deep regret about the remarks made by Ceri Evans, his director of communications.

It is the second time Mr Evans's colourful style has landed him in a major row and officials at the authority believe it is only a matter of time before Mr Bowker dispenses with his services.

Mr Evans made his latest controversial remark to this newspaper after Mr Winsor demanded that the infrastructure organisation Network Rail cut about £7bn from its investment plans over the next five years by carrying out less work and spending its money more efficiently.

The communications chief derided an assertion by Mr Winsor that his final decision on how much train operators would have to pay Network Rail for access to the system would "determine the size, quality and cost" of the network. Mr Evans said that was the responsibility of the SRA and any official document which said anything to the contrary amounted to a "temporary aberration which should never have made it into print".

The authority spokesman said that if the railways were a supermarket then the SRA would be the chief buyer and Mr Winsor a price-checker. The rail regulator is thought to be furious but his office said yesterday that Mr Winsor considered the matter closed.

Mr Bowker says in his letter: "We at the SRA are extremely concerned at the confusion that these comments by us may have caused and wish to put the record straight, as what was said was wrong."

Earlier this year, Mr Evansa former senior press officer at Conservative Central Office, issued an apology after making a foul-mouthed attack on Lord Berkeley of the Rail Freight Group in a voicemail message to a magazine editor.