Planned cuts on five rail lines to be withdrawn

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Transport Correspondent

The rail franchising director, Roger Salmon, has been forced to reinstate many proposed cuts to service levels on five lines scheduled for early privatisation.

Mr Salmon announced details of the minimum number of trains that private operators will be expected to provide on these lines following publication of draft proposals in the spring.

In the wake of the consultation process, he has reinstated the sleeper service between Fort William and Euston and at least 70 early and late trains on Network SouthCentral, which operates mostly out of London Victoria.

However, the proposed "passenger service requirements" for the lines - Midland Main Line, Scotrail, InterCity East Coast, Network SouthCentral and Gatwick Express - still contain extensive reductions compared with the existing timetable.

An analysis by Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, suggests that most stations served by InterCity would have 15 per cent fewer trains. For example, on the Midland Main Line, operators would need to provide only 10 trains from Loughborough to London (currently 18), 11 from Market Harborough (17), and 25 from Leicester (32).

Mr Salmon was at pains to stress that many of the trains on the existing timetable but not on his passenger service requirement would still run. An Oprafsource said: "We want to give private operators flexibility and that is why we have not specified all existing trains. Most of them are commercially viable and therefore it will be advantageous for a private operator to run them as they will make money out of them."

However, on heavily subsidised lines, such as London commuter routes, nearly all existing trains will have to be run by private operators, although some early and late trains will be withdrawn: "These trains are very lightly used and in many cases are just used by operators to move rolling stock," an Opraf spokesman said.

Mr Salmon's most notable retreat was on the Fort William sleeper which has been reinstated after his announcement last year that it would be cut. However, it will be a truncated service (at present it runs six nights a week, with four sleeping cars, a buffet car and a guard's van).

Mr Salmon said his was a "more economical way of operating sleeper services to Fort William". It would require pounds 580,000 against pounds 2.3m, but he felt it was still "an exceptionally high level of subsidy", only justified by the train's importance to the West Highlands.

Despite Mr Salmon's U-turns, rail user groups still expressed concern at the reduced levels of service proposed on many lines. Rufus Barnes of the London Passenger Transport Committee said: "So far we have managed to identify only one service where there would actually be more trains than currently. While we accept what Mr Salmon has to say, all this is creating a lot of uncertainty among passengers."

All these lines, apart from Scotrail, are due to be put out to tender this month, but the franchising process is running well behind the Government's target of having 51 per cent of services in private hands by next April.