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British Rail sale should stop, says the first person actually to buy a part of it ...

THE FIRST man to buy part of Britain's railways says privatisation will result in ticket price increases of up to 40 per cent, and the sell- off should stop.

Peter Waterman, who made his fortune promoting pop music, bought British Rail's Special Trains Unit, which runs charters such as football specials, on 1 April. But just a fortnight later he says that privatisation is not working in its present form and the sell-off will mean drastically higher costs for rail operators and passengers.

"I would not privatise the rolling stock, it belongs to the nation," he said. "Railways should be a monopoly. Throughout history attempts to break it up haven't worked."

Mr Waterman, who began his career as a British Rail fireman in Wolverhampton and has maintained a lifelong interest in trainspotting, said he bought the loss-making Special Trains Unit to save it from certain closure after 31 March this year.

"There was no provision for public subsidies. It is a pure act of faith to save a part of the railway's history," he said.

The Department of Transport said that Mr Waterman, formerly part of the successful Stock, Aitken and Waterman record-producing trio, paid £1.25m for six diesel locomotives, 200 coaches and a customer list for the chartered train business.

But Mr Waterman says that he has "been stuffed" and is being priced out of the market by cost rises of up to 79 per cent for track access, train crews, and maintenance work for the STU's 800 annual chartered train journeys. At current costs journeys such as the Land Cruise weekend trips around Scotland are no longer viable, even at £600 per head for passengers, excluding food.

In an interview published in Public Finance magazine this week he says: "I am angry because we have been dragged to 1 April by political dogma and it doesn't matter who we have tried to talk to to explain privatisation is not working. Somebody soon is going to understand how much this is going to cost people. We are looking at a 30-40 per cent rise in ticket prices."

"We thought that by the time we had got into privatisation all the other companies would be there, and the reality of the Railway Act would have got through to the DoT and the Government and they would have had to change certain things."

Mr Waterman said the business had a £6.25m turnover in 1993/94 but a loss of £4m was forecast. He warned that breaking up BR into 25 operating firms would lead to private firms making profits from public money.

He said: "If I was in the business of making money out of railways, I'd buy the West Coast Main Line. A buyer will just take the Government subsidy and the money and then drop it. The operators will be tripping over money. But I wouldn't touch it. It's immoral."

The Labour Party has challenged rail privatisation, but Mr Waterman said the MPs were "asking the wrong questions".