Private rail lines 'to push up fares'

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COMMUTERS on privatised rail lines where services have been improved by investment could be forced to pay higher fares, the Department of Transport conceded yesterday.

Already under British Rail fares tend to rise faster on lines where targets on reliability and punctuality are being met. But the relationship between investment and fares rises is likely to become even closer after privatisation, which is due to begin next year.

However, under privatisation, the Government wants the costs of individual lines to be clearly identified so that cross subsidy between lines will be reduced. Yesterday, Labour warned that some commuters on Network SouthEast could face rises of up to 130 per cent after investment programmes are implemented. On the London, Tilbury and Southend line, pounds 250m is required for new rolling stock by 1997.

Glenda Jackson, the MP for Hampstead and Highgate, who is on the committee examining the Railways Bill, has calculated that this would mean a 130 per cent fares rise if commuters were forced to meet the full cost. Similarly, commuters in the South East division of Network SouthEast will face an 80 per cent rise.

After privatisation, investment on track and infrastructure will be the responsibility of Railtrack, which will have to recoup its costs and make an 8 per cent return on investment by charging rail operators for the use of the track.

The Department of Transport said the link between track charges and investment was not yet determined, but 'it could reflect, to some extent, the cost of investment on the line'.