BR to hand over ownership of trains: Leasing companies will be sold off later

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Indy Politics
BRITISH RAIL is to be forced to hand over its 11,000 passenger locomotives and carriages to a series of leasing companies when the privatisation process starts on 1 April next year, writes Christian Wolmar.

This will leave BR in the curious position of being responsible for all train services but owning neither the rolling stock nor the infrastructure which is to be handed to the new track authority, Railtrack, on the same day.

In a written answer, Roger Freeman, the Minister for Public Transport, said yesterday that the Government's initial view was that three companies should be created to take on the rolling stock, estimated to be worth pounds 2bn. They will be in the public sector but sold off at a later date.

Each will have a mixed portfolio of different types and ages of stock. The Government hopes that this will be the first stage in creating a market for second-hand rolling stock which will be an essential part of the privatisation process.

Brian Wilson, Labour's transport spokesman, said yesterday's announcement still left a lot of questions unanswered. 'The Government is struggling to create a market in rolling stock when there is no evidence that the private sector is at all interested. This is the start of the fragmentation of BR raising all the questions about who on the railways will be responsible for what in practice and in law.'

Potential private operators who are to be granted franchises to run trains are particularly worried about what will happen to their rolling stock at the end of their franchise periods.

The Government is expected to announce soon that it will take on all or part of this risk, in order to ensure that potential franchisees come forward.

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