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Axe SRA and take back rail spend planning, Winsor tells Darling

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RAIL REGULATOR Tom Winsor has this week called for legislation to force the government to review subsidy and support of the railways on a five or ten year planning cycle.

He also urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to take back responsibility for planning spending on the railways. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), which now carries out this role, should, he said, be axed.

'The present arm's length relationship between the Secretary of State and the SRA is not conducive to sound decisionmaking, ' said Winsor. 'Government needs to be much closer to the information and analysis which forms the basis of its decisions. The SRA has grown beyond its efficient dimensions.'

Winsor's comments are made in the rail regulator's submission to transport secretary Alistair Darling's rail review. He argues that the current system makes it too easy for government to duck difficult cost cutting decisions such as axing services.

'Under the present system the government already has the means to prevent a substantial rise in its subsidy budget. What it lacked in 2000 and 2003 was the will to use it, ' says the submission. 'Legislation should place an obligation on the Secretary of State to establish the outputs which his franchising and other support programmes will require.'

With the DfT responsible for planning, the SRA would be left to negotiate and manage contracts. To avoid confusion with 'the distorted perception of the role of the present SRA', Winsor suggests renaming it the Rail Procurement Agency.

Winsor fell out with the SRA earlier this year when it tried to fund parts of the West Coast Main Line upgrade by raiding budgets for other work (NCE 15 January).

'Since its inception the SRA has consistently asserted a jurisdiction which it does not possess, leading to industry and wider uncertainty, ' said the submission.

'It is not conducive to public, industry and investor confidence in the industry if these uncertainties are created or allowed to persist.'

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