Letter: Yet another sell-off bound for the buffers

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The Independent Online
Sir: Christian Wolmar reports today ('Railtrack is lined up for quick pounds 3bn sell-off', 24 May) that the Government is now considering the attempted privatisation of Railtrack before the next election, This is, in fact, a most welcome interim admission of failure on its part. The idea of selling off the tracks and signalling only arises because of the Government's conspicuous lack of success in arousing investor interest in the passenger rail franchises.

However, its problem is that Railtrack is almost entirely dependent for revenue on the train operators, who in turn are reliant on political decisions about subsidy. So exactly the same argument applies against investment in Railtrack as in the passenger franchises.

The investment community understands that there is no question of an incoming Labour government accepting politically- motivated subsidy or franchise arrangements entered into by the Tories in respect of a privatised railway, or any part of it.

This is what separates the railways from all other privatisations. It is a subsidised industry, and all the more so because of the vastly inflated access charges set by Railtrack. Anyone who invests is gambling on the continuation of politically-determined subsidy, and the assistance of a compliant franchise director. These would, to say the least, be reckless assumptions.

Yours faithfully,


MP for Cunninghame

North (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

24 May

The writer is Labour spokesman on transport.