Railway watchdogs 'will be enfeebled'

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The Independent Online
PASSENGERS will be left with damaged and 'enfeebled' representation under the Government's proposals for rail privatisation, the Central Transport Consultative Committee said yesterday.

The committee, the statutory watchdog body for rail service users, said the credibility of consumer bodies would be 'seriously undermined' unless they were given much greater powers than currently envisaged.

Major General Lennox Napier, chairman of the committee, said he welcomed the decision to retain users' committees but 'my pleasure . . . is marred by disappointment at their proposed enfeeblement'. He added: 'I regret that the proposals will have the effect of weakening the existing limited powers of the committees. As they stand, I do not believe that the proposals are in rail users' best interests.'

Several of the Government's proposals, published in A Voice for the Passenger in December, are strongly criticised by the CTCC. They include the ban on the new users' committees considering fares and charges and taking part in drawing up the franchises.

The CTCC says fares are of basic importance to the passenger. 'The credibility of a consumer body that is not able to take up such issues will be seriously undermined.' Excluding the new committees from commenting on franchises is also 'hard to reconcile' with the Government's commitment to give them power to 'consider any matters which appear to them to affect the interests of users or potential users of service'.

There is also criticism of the proposal that the new user bodies should 'take account of value for money from the point of view of the public purse, within current resources constraints'. The CTCC says this marks a departure from existing legislation. Watchdogs should represent passengers' interests 'without restraint'.

It says users' committees should not be sponsored by the proposed railway regulator, as they may be questioning the regulator's decisions. They should continue to be sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry or transferred to the minister responsible for the Citizen's Charter.