Letter: Privatise the trains, not the tracks

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The Independent Online
YOUR ARTICLE 'BR accused on freight decline' (29 November) highlights the contrast between the Government's stated desire to move traffic from road to rail and the reality.

One simple solution may have been overlooked: to privatise the services but with the full infrastructure costs borne by the Government. This would broadly accord with the privatisation White Paper but avoid most of the difficulties. Services would become attractive to the private sector, generating competition for them. The network would be secure. Fares and freight charges could be reduced, improving the railways' competitive position.

Two practical problems of implementing the policies of the White Paper would be solved. The bureaucratic tangle of allocating track costs to services would be removed at a stroke. The extension to railway investment of the cost-benefit analysis currently used for road schemes would be facilitated.

The real costs to the public would be much less than the gross cost of maintaining the system. Additional revenue could be obtained through the franchising system or by levying a fuel tax - neither would threaten services or add greatly to operating costs.

I M Slater

Leominster, Herefordshire