MacGregor to break up InterCity rail network

JOHN MacGREGOR, the Secretary of State for Transport, will confirm tomorrow that he intends to break up the InterCity network in spite of the last- minute attempts by British Rail to try to retain it as a single system.

The three most potentially profitable lines are likely to be among the first six 'shadow franchises' to be announced by the Government during the Second Reading debate of the Railways Bill which will privatise BR.

The east coast main line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh and beyond, the services from Paddington to Wales and the West, and the Gatwick Express have been earmarked as shadow franchises, probably in addition to the London, Tilbury and Southend line, the Chiltern line and all or part of Scotrail.

InterCity in effect broke even last year, but is currently loss- making because of the recession and the unreliability of some lines that need urgent investment. The break-up of the network will inevitably put pressure on BR to close the other loss-making services.

The announcement will also show that the Government is determined to outface criticism over its plans which already, according to a transport ministry briefing leaked last week, will mean the loss of railcard benefits to the 2.4 million holders, including 700,000 pensioners.

Brian Wilson, Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'Splitting up InterCity is bound to cause massive political ructions in places served by the network. If profitable sectors are hived off, the implication for the other lines is clear - closure.'

The Labour Party today will announce a 10-point plan to boost the railways, which will include allowing BR to borrow money for investment like its French counterpart, improving accountability through stronger passenger watchdogs and the creation of a new independent safety body.