Track and signals company offers rail fees deadline

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The Independent Online
STRATHCLYDE Passenger Transport Authority was yesterday promised a detailed breakdown within 10 days of the fees it will be charged by Railtrack, the new government-owned track and signalling company.

Representatives of Strathclyde Regional Council were also assured at a meeting in London that such charges are likely to be 10 per cent lower than anticipated.

Strathclyde was threatening to withhold the pounds 33m annual subsidy it pays to support Scottish commuter rail services unless key conditions were met. These included a breakdown of the new charges.

Other conditions for Strathclyde's co-operation with the new privatised British Rail have yet to be met. These include renegotiating the legal agreement governing the payment of subsidies to the service provider, Scotrail, and obtaining government guarantees on financial subsidies.

There are widespread fears throughout Britain that lines will close, fares will rise, timetables will be cut and higher council tax bills will follow unless the Government agrees to subsidise the increased cost of operating train services - likely to be well in excess of pounds 200m - following the privatisation of BR.

Mark Dowd, chair of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, warned this week that unless the seven regional passenger transport authorities were given 'cast-iron guarantees' that the Government would cover the increased costs following privatisation, then services will get 'cut to pieces', or council tax payers will face much higher bills.

His comments came after the news that the leaders of the seven regional PTA's will be meeting Roger Freeman, the Public Transport Minister, next month to see if a mechanism can be found for central government to cover all the increased costs.

In the past the authorities used to subsidise BR to run local services but now Railtrack has, in effect, trebled the charge by setting very high track access charges. Additional charges will follow from privatised train operators and rolling stock leasing operators.

The PTA's are anxious to ensure that the Government agrees to meet the difference in cost between former subsidy levels and the new, much higher charges. The Government has agreed to cover the cost of the difference in 1994- 95 - some pounds 144m - but there are no written assurances that it will cover the discrepancy in costs in subsequent years.

At a meeting last week, Mr Freeman assured the authorities, in principle, that the new higher costs would be met by an increase in general rate support. But a mechanism for assuring this has yet to be found.

Mick Lyons, the chair of the West Yorkshire PTA, has already warned that the increased costs cannot be met by closing the odd branch line. The only option, he says, is 'closing the rail network in West Yorkshire'.

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