Leading article: Off the rails

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Yet again, Gordon Brown finds himself public enemy No 1 in the eyes of the motoring lobby. The recent demonstration in the capital by hauliers was followed by a rally of bikers in Manchester yesterday.

And in the Commons this week, the Prime Minister was put on the political rack over his planned reforms to vehicle excise duty and the scheduled 2p increase in fuel tax. One might imagine that, at a time when he is being hammered for penalising road users, Mr Brown would want to be able to point to extensive public investment in other forms of transport.

Would the Prime Minister not want to show that, although he is fining the drivers of heavily-polluting vehicles, he is also making life easier for those who make more environment-friendly transport choices? So it is rather disconcerting to read the latest report from the Office of Rail Regulation, which says that train passengers face disruption from weekend engineering work for years to come. The forecast comes as Network Rail is complaining that its latest budget settlement is insufficient.

It is normal for public bodies to complain of underfunding. But in the case of the railways, the complaints are entirely justified. The Government has taken the farcical decision to steadily decrease the public subsidy to the railway, just as demand for rail travel is rising and its status as the most environmentally-friendly form of transportation is increasingly plain.

This is one "long-term decision" that Mr Brown needs to reverse quickly if he is to have any chance of justifying his claims to have a truly "green" transport policy.

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