Rail plan `unworkable'

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Indy Politics
A Labour government would have to renationalise Railtrack if it wanted to boost rail use, an article by the adviser to the Commons Transport Committee suggests. Professor Bill Bradshaw of Wolfson College, Oxford, a former chairman of Ulsterbus, al so argues that the format of the Government's rail privatisation plans may be unworkable because they are not designed to attract investment.

The intervention by such an eminent independent expert on transport will stiffen the resolve of those in the Labour Party in favour of renationalisation, who appear to have emerged in the ascendancy in the past week.

Professor Bradshaw says in New Economy, the journal of the Institute for Public Policy Research, that "if Railtrack has been sold by the next election, it should be re-acquired by the state at its sale price". He argues that if this point is made at the time of the sale, it might well make Railtrack unsaleable.

State ownership of Railtrack was necessary to ensure that key objectives for the railways, such as massively increased use as suggested in the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, could be met. Professor Bradshaw is also worried that the new structure of the railways created to enable the industry to be privatised is a deterrent to investors. He says the Government's key mistake is to separate Railtrack from the train services because "running the railway is the ultimate team game". He says thisseparation means that the train-operating companies which are due to be franchised out in a year's time will have no control over the track and signalling on which they depend.

"Track and signalling are an active element in the provision of a reliable service," he said, suggesting that the train-operating companies should take on responsibility for all functions of running the railway, although possibly Railtrack would have to remain as a freeholder.

Professor Bradshaw is worried the investment to replace much of the signalling installed in the 1960s will not be forthcoming because of the privatisation hiatus.