Watchdog may ban Railtrack from selling prime sites to developers

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The Independent Online

Railtrack may be banned from making tens of millions of pounds through the sale of its land to supermarkets and other businesses anxious to buy prime sites near lines.

Railtrack may be banned from making tens of millions of pounds through the sale of its land to supermarkets and other businesses anxious to buy prime sites near lines.

The rail regulator, Tom Winsor, yesterday revealed a plan to make sure the infrastructure company cannot dispose of assets that might be needed to improve the rail system. The proposal follows considerable disquiet about the company's freedom to dispose of landconsidered to be a national asset.

Mr Winsor also proposed preventing Railtrack PLC, the group's licensed rail subsidiary, from investing in businesses unconnected with its core activity. He said: "Railtrack exercises stewardship over assets of strategic importance to the operation and future development of the network.

"Safeguards are needed to protect against the disposal of these assets, including land, which once lost to the railway industry would be prohibitively expensive to replace." He said he would be consulting on the proposals.

A Railtrack spokesman said the organisation did not think fresh limitations to its licence were necessary. "Our overriding aim when disposing of land is to maximise the benefits to the railway, either in raising money for investment or in getting like for like improvements to the station nearby.

"A good example is at Mr Winsor's local station at Staplehurst near Maidstone where the sale of land there is paying for a transport interchange, and buying us land to increase the car parking capacity."

The Office of the Rail Regulator issued a list of sites where there is concern over Railtrack sites. They include:

? Bristol City Council - Bristol Bath Road, Severn Beach line, Portishead line, Filton-Henbury-Severnside line.

? Cambridgeshire County Council - Chesterton siding, "up" side of Whittlesford station.

? Cardiff County Council - Pengam terminal, Cardiff Cathays depot, Radyr, Canton link depot, Ely paper mill site.

? Carrick District Council - Site at Richmond Road, Truro.

? Conwy County Borough Council - Llandudno junction marshalling yard and sidings.

? East Riding of Yorkshire Council - Goole station.

? West Dunbartonshire Council - Land next to Dumbarton Central Station; and

? West Lothian Council - Anytown sidings, Darwhinnie station, Kelmet halt, Bathgate, West Calder.

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