The delay has been requested by the man who will be responsible for organising the privatisation of services, Roger Salmon, the Franchising Director. The preparation for privatisation has proved more difficult than envisaged.
Yesterday, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: 'It is a very substantial programme, the biggest reorganisation of the railways since 1948.'
The announcement of the delay coincided with a vociferous attack from the all-party anti-rail privatisation group, Save Our Railways, with Simon Adley, the son of the late Conservative MP, Robert Adley, attacking the Government for having 'no transport policy' and having 'shed any environmental concerns' in pursuing its rail privatisation policy.
British Rail is due to be split into 25 'train operating companies' on 1 April when responsibility for the track and infrastructure will be handed over to a new organisation, Railtrack. The first of these companies, Gatwick Express, has been operating as a shadow franchise since October last year and the other early candidates for privatisation will start working as shadow franchises as 1 April.
Mr MacGregor stressed that a new timetable for privatisation had been worked out with Mr Salmon and that the first six franchises would be let to the private sector by the end of 1995 instead of during 1994 and early 1995 as originally planned.
The six are Gatwick Express, the East Coast Main line, the Great Western Line, Scotrail, Network SouthEast's south-western division and the London, Tilbury and Southend line. Privatisation of the other early candidate for franchising, the tiny Isle of Wight railway, has been postponed indefinitely.
Mr MacGregor has set Mr Salmon the target of franchising 51 per cent of the railway by April 1996, the earliest likely date for a general election, and he also wants him to favour bids from the private sector which involve existing railway workers.
There has so far been very little interest from groups outside British Rail for taking over franchises, but Mr MacGregor said he did not expect 'serious bids' until more details of the finances of each franchise area were known. There would be long-term commitments from the Treasury for subsidy to companies taking on franchises.
Brian Wilson, Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'I cannot imagine why anyone should want to invest in businesses which are dependent on political decisions about subsidy for their profit.'
There have also been delays in ensuring the three companies due to take over BR's rolling stock on 1 April are properly functioning.