First private trains could appear in late 1994

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THE LONG wrangle over BR's right to bid for rail franchises has disguised the fact that the Railways Bill has passed almost unscathed through Parliament.

The prospect of private trains on the tracks is still at least a year away, however.

The first consequence of the Bill is that British Rail will virtually be abolished on 1 April next year in what will be a major reorganisation of the railways.

The track and the rest of the infrastructure are to be handed over to Railtrack, a new body which is headed by Bob Horton, a former chairman of BP.

The train services will go to 26 new operating divisions which will initially be part of BR, but they will gradually be offered for franchise to the private sector.

The revised amendment accepted by the Government means BR will be allowed to bid only if there are no other bidders, which in effect was the case anyway as BR will have to pick up any franchises for which there are no bids.

Ministers have accepted that it will take a decade before all services are in private hands.

Bids are expected to come mainly from existing staff in management buyouts backed by some venture capital.

The rolling stock is to be handed over to three leasing companies which, like Railtrack, will initially be in the public sector but will eventually be privatised.

The first part of BR to be privatised will be the Gatwick Express shuttle service between Victoria station in London and the airport. This is already being tested as a 'shadow franchise' to assess the economics of the line.

At the earliest, if the private sector - which so far has shown very little interest - comes forward, the first private trains could be running late in 1994 or early in 1995. Other early candidates for franchising to the private sector include InterCity lines from King's Cross and Paddington in London, and the south-western division of Network SouthEast.

(Photograph omitted)