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Byers to grasp rail strategy from SRA

NEWS

NEW TRANSPORT secretary Stephen Byers this week signalled that he planned to take control of rail strategy away from the Strategic Rail Authority.

He also intends to overhaul the refranchising programme for train operators in a bid to kick start the process, which is considered too slow.

Byers set out his plans last week following the announcement that Authority (SRA) chairman Sir Alastair Morton would not renew his contract which expires in April (News last week).

Byers said he wanted a new chairman in place quickly to oversee the much delayed strategic review, now expected to be published in November.

The fact that the government has felt the need to take such a controlling interest now shows a loss of confidence in the SRA and disappointment at its failure to deliver a strategy.

Byers is to issue the SRA with draft guidance outlining its priorities. He will also publish a paper within a fortnight setting out a new approach to franchising.

This is seen by many in the rail industry as a direct snub to SRA chief executive Mike Grant, who has overseen the re-franchising process.

Some now believe he, along with others, will follow chairman Sir Alastair Morton out of the SRA.

This has led to fears that work done on the review will be changed, further delaying it.

Railway Civil Engineers Association chairman Graeme Monteith said the moves are 'implicitly critical' of the SRA.

But he said Byers was right to seize back control of the railways.

But Mike Casebourne, chief executive of the ICE, said Byers' action was a 'knee-jerk reaction' to the SRA's perceived failures. Others said the move reflected the need of the new transport secretary to make his mark. Casebourne said the SRA has had to convince the government that its task is much bigger that originally anticpated. When it reported this to mininsters, it was not to 'the governments liking', he said.

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