We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk


Promised trains will be delayed by months

LONG-SUFFERING rail passengers crammed into dilapidated slam- door trains will have to wait considerably longer for the new carriages they were promised last year.

The industry agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, last year that 500 new trains would be introduced by now, but only about 100 are in operation. Some operators, such as Connex and LTS Rail in southern England and South West Trains, have failed to introduce one new unit since the deadline was agreed at Mr Prescott's first "rail summit" in November 1998, say internal industry figures.

Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority, said a further 50 would be introduced by the end of the year, but accepted there was a serious delay.

He laid most of the blame at the door of manufacturers such as Daimler- Benz, Bombardier and Alsthom Siemens, which were "the world's finest engineering companies", but their rail subsidiaries were not up to that standard.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the testing process for the rolling stock, involving Health and Safety Executive inspectors, Railtrack and representatives from the makers, was also "pretty ill organised".

Sir Alastair said the rail authority had taken charge of a working party involving the relevant organisations to "unblock the blockages" so that the remaining 350 trains, which were now due to be delivered in the new year, went into operation as soon as possible. Another group had been established to change the process by which new trains were introduced.

Jonathan Bray, director of the pressure group Save Our Railways, said it was "hugely disappointing" the objectives had not been met. "Heads need to be banged together because some of these trains have been built but are stuck in factories because of red tape," he said.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said nearly all the delays to the new rolling stock were due to the rigorous safety inspections each vehicle had to have before it could run on the network. There would be 1,000 new vehicles on the network by the end of next year, a spokesman promised.

Ken Bird, managing director of LTS Rail, which runs the London, Tilbury and Southend service, said his new rolling stock was three to four months late, but customers demanded "absolute safety and absolute reliability" and that meant the trains had to pass the tests before going into service. "If that means delays then so be it," he said. "On my line we're desperate for the new trains, my customers have had it poor for too long. The new trains are there, air conditioned, 100 miles an hour, everything they ever want and teasingly they're months away."

Mike Ruston of Alsthom Siemens said there had been a period before and after privatisation when manufacturers had received no orders and factories were idle. "It was simply not possible to move from an empty domestic order book to full production overnight," he said.