Disused trains may be used for evacuation

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Hundreds of railway carriages could be placed into a national strategic reserve for a mass evacuation of Britain's cities in the event of a terrorist attack.

Hundreds of railway carriages could be placed into a national strategic reserve for a mass evacuation of Britain's cities in the event of a terrorist attack.

The new Civil Contingencies Bill, published last week, gives ministers the right to take emergency powers to evacuate cities and requires railway operators to provide services in an emergency.

However, railway industry sources say that the most modern trains, like the Pendolinos and Voyagers introduced over the past few years, could not be used because of their limited capacity and route availability.

But there are plans for a reserve to be created from the hundreds of relatively modern carriages, owned by leasing companies such as Porterbrook and HSBC, that will be displaced by the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line. By the end of the year, carriages on these services will have been replaced by new tilting trains.

Although they are comfortable and air conditioned, the redundant Mark 2 and Mark 3 carriages, built by British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s, have low residual value, since there is no obvious buyer for them. As they are withdrawn, they are already being placed into secure storage at Ministry of Defence sites such as Kineton in Warwickshire and Shoeburyness in Essex.

Should they be needed in an emergency, there are already enough modern freight locomotives to haul them anywhere in the country.

Rupert Brennan-Brown, of Porterbrook, said last night: "We're not ruling anything in or out at the moment."

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said: "We cannot comment on the details of civil contingency planning, other than to say the transport sector has been involved in their preparation."

* The Government is planning "pretty big changes" to the structure of the privatised railway, whose trains and tracks are operated separately, according to transport minister Kim Howells. He said: "I'm very much in favour of re-integrating the rail system - the relationship between the trains and the tracks."

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