Reid takes on ministers over rail privatisation

SIR BOB Reid, chairman of British Rail, is fighting a tough rearguard action to reshape government plans to privatise the railways.

In behind-the-scenes battles, he is trying to convince ministers their plans will create a legal minefield that could result in trains being cancelled because of disputes between operators and the various quangos created under the new system.

Sir Bob has always been sceptical of the privatisation plans, even though he spent 35 years in the private sector with Shell, and has publicly refused to endorse them. 'If you ask me would I do it at all, that's a question I'm not going to answer,' he has said.

The strong resistance campaign being mounted by Sir Bob and his senior colleagues is bound to lead to a further deterioration in the relationship between British Rail and ministers. John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, was deeply angered just before Christmas when Sir Bob launched a ferocious attack on the privatisation plans in a radio interview. The chairman had been stung into making the outburst by the appointment of Robert Horton, a former chairman of BP with an abrasive reputation, as a BR board member with special responsibility for the proposed track authority, Railtrack.

Sir Bob aims to convince Mr MacGregor not to separate the running of trains from control of the track in most parts of the network. He said last week he felt such a division would eliminate many of the productivity gains made in the past decade since BR was reorganised into three companies, Regional Railways, Network SouthEast and InterCity.

The Government wants to split up BR into Railtrack, which will handle infrastructure such as signalling and track, and a series of franchises for the lines, which will be sold to the private sector. Sir Bob says this will leave operators blaming the track authority for failures. 'At the moment, the manager running, say, the London, Tilbury and Southend line can look at a bad day and ask 'What went wrong?', so next time he can get it right. We need to keep that command structure. We want to ensure that people running the railways have command over all the resources.'

Sir Bob feels the Network SouthEast lines, and possibly other busy routes, should be 'vertically franchised', leaving the trains and the track in the hands of the same company. Otherwise privatisation will be delayed, he says. 'If you take a disintegrated franchise, with a Railtrack and a separate train operation, you probably have 26 or 27 interfaces for operation with other parts of the railway, signalling and so on and each one has to be safety validated. If you have a vertical franchise, you will probably only have about six interfaces.'

The fears expressed by many critics about the bureaucracy inherent in privatisation are echoed by Sir Bob. 'We have streamlined our operations and we have a real handle on bureaucracy, we've squeezed a lot,' he says. 'It seems difficult to avoid creating a lot of bureaucracy in the new organisations.' He points out that there are 14,000 points where parts of the railway have contractual relationships with each other. Moving from the present managerial structure to a legal one is fraught with difficulties, he says.

On InterCity, Sir Bob is backing a scheme by senior managers to have the whole operation franchised together, ensuring the brand name is kept.

Sir Bob is also concerned about the motives of private operators. 'The regulator (who will oversee prices and competition after privatisation) must have a deep concern that there is no hidden agenda from a private operator to try to schedule trains in such a way as to have a long gap and force people, say, to use the same operator's buses for some of the journey,' he says.

Mr MacGregor has already made some changes to his plans by saying recently that both vertical and exclusive franchises would be considered. The Railways Bill, published on 22 January, allows for this. BR insiders say these concessions were made as a result of pressure being put on the Government by BR. They point out that if BR withdrew its co-operation, the plans would become unworkable.

BR senior managers are pleased with the way Sir Bob is fighting his corner and will not resign, despite attacks from the Tory press. He intends to stay in his pounds 213,000 a year job until his contract ends in April 1995, despite what one manager said was 'a hellish time ahead' for BR.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Life and Style
Sony Computer Entertainment President and Group CEO Andrew House, executive in charge of Sony Network Entertainment, introduces PlayStation Now
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?