Prescott's ten-year plan for integrated transport is 'dead'

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The Government should admit that the much-trumpeted 10-year, transport blueprint launched by John Prescott in 2000 is "dead," says a former Whitehall adviser on transport.

In a scathing critique released today, Tony Grayling, an associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Tony Blair's favourite think-tank, says Labour's transport strategy has been dogged by reorganisations and reshuffles. Eight ministers have held the brief since 1997.

His criticism comes at a sensitive time because the Government will announce yet another reorganisation today to streamline the ramshackle rail network. It will pave the way for a return to the old British Rail regions.

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, will create a system in which eight regional "fat controllers'' will begin to integrate management of the track with the operation of the trains. As reported in The Independent, the Government will also take some important powers away from the Strategic Rail Authority, calling into question the future of its chairman, Richard Bowker. Industry insiders expect him to be forced out because of the changes, although the authority chairman insisted yesterday that he had no intention of resigning.

Mr Grayling, a former special adviser at the Department for Transport and a respected expert on the subject, says the Government's targets to boost rail passenger use by 50 per cent and rail freight by 80 per cent now look implausible.

Writing inPolitical Quarterly magazine, he says: "To all intents and purposes, the current, 10-year, transport plan is dead. Its key target to cut road traffic congestion has been abandoned. If the modest target to increase bus use by 10 per cent is likely to be met, then that is only because of the increase in London.

"Lack of continuity has not helped political consistency. Integrated transport is no longer even part of the vocabulary. The political goal now appears to be keeping transport out of the headlines rather than promoting a vision for the part that transport can play in a good society.

"The trouble with transport policy is that it is all about trains, planes and automobiles as if transport is an end to itself, not a means to an end. Progressive transport policy should focus on accessibility not mobility."

Under today's changes, the Network Rail directors will try to ensure more co-operation between "track and wheel'' - a policy supported by most senior railway managers.

The Government is attempting to create a structure under which companies are responsible for both trains and infrastructure. At the moment, the state-backed Network Rail manages the track while 26 train operating companies run the services.

Under the new regime, responsibility for railway operations will be taken away from the Health and Safety Executive and either handed to the Department for Transport, or more likely to the new rail regulator when he takes up office in the summer.

The most far-reaching changes to the network since Labour came to power have been prompted by the Treasury's view that the railways have become a black hole for taxpayers' money. The most recent figures show that government intervention has failed to improve services.