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Byers slammed for short-term rail plans


RAIL INVESTMENT was effectively put on hold this week after transport secretary Stephen Byers announced that only short term extensions would be granted to passenger service franchises.

Critics also slammed Byers for not including Railtrack in his plans, which are believed to be part of a conscious effort by the government to give the network operator some breathing space.

Byers confirmed that the much criticised Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) would now concentrate on delivering improved services either within existing franchises or by negotiating two year extensions. It is understood that the SRA was not consulted before the announcement The Railway Forum (RF), which represents over 60 companies in the rail industry, said the proposals undermined plans for growth and would make vital borrowing more difficult.

'The industry needs the confidence of having a long term strategy for growth, ' said RF director general Adrian Lyons.

But one operator went further, condemning Byers' move as 'short term expediency not long term gain'.

The announcement also appears to fly in the face of the SRA's annual report, released this week, which refers to the need for 'strong investment within long term franchises'.

Byers claimed the change in direction would deliver quick improvements including new rolling stock. He cited Midland Mainline, whose franchise was extended by two years last year, as an example of how investment can be brought in. However, operators countered that the plans discouraged investment, as franchises would expire before returns from new rolling stock were realised.

One pointed out that Midland Mainline's success was largely due to it being one of the few profitable franchises not requiring subsidy, allowing the operator to plough profits back in.

Most other commuter lines, it was claimed, were a long way from being profitable.

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