Rail office will balance interests

JOHN SWIFT, the Rail Regulator, in his first public interview yesterday emphasised his independence from the Government, writes Christian Wolmar.

Mr Swift said he would not hesitate to make difficult decisions to protect the interests of passengers, but he did accept he was constrained by the financial situation of the railways and of the private companies that will operate them after privatisation.

The office of Rail Regulator is a key part of the restructuring of the railways for privatisation, which begins in earnest in April next year.

It has the job of ensuring that the new structure operates effectively and will be known as ORR, rather than Ofrail, which would clearly have been a hostage to fortune. Mr Swift will issue licences to new operators, 'promote the use of the network' and will also approve access agreements.

Mr Swift, a QC specialising in competition law, accepted his job did not just involve the interests of passengers, but included a responsibility to the companies who obtain franchises to operate services and to the franchising director who allocates them. That means, he said, 'like other regulators, I will have to balance conflicting interests'.

He accepted that in the new system the buck will rest with him.

'We're going to be decision makers and will need to make good ones,' he said.