Howells admits rail crisis failure

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Indy Politics

The transport minister, Kim Howells, said yesterday that the Government had failed to tackle the crisis in the rail network.

He admitted that ministers should have acted to improve the rail network when the Government came to power in 1997.

Speaking as Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, faced criticism after announcing the most radical review of the rail network since privatisation, Mr Howells suggested that the network had been underfunded.

He told Radio 5 Live: "We got quite a bit of it wrong and I guess it is all right with hindsight to say we should have done this six-and-a-half years ago.

"I think we probably should have done it six-and-a-half years ago, but there are all kinds of constraints in government and there are all kinds of decisions that have to be made about issues.

"But governments have to make decisions about how they spend their money and how they use their resources. We did not do it with the railways and maybe we should have."

Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), insisted yesterday that the body would be "right at the heart" of the Government's review.

He denied that he had been considering resignation, despite speculation about his future and said he would fight people within the rail industry opposed to reform.

He told BBC Radio 4: "There are only two different groups of people: the ones who want to deliver for passengers and customers and the ones who don't particularly want change. They must not succeed.

"The only thing that matters is making this railway work, safely, reliably and properly... and people who do not have that as their agenda need to get out of the way."