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Councils slam 'buckpassing' plans for community rail lines

PLANS TO reinvigorate community rail services by handing responsibility for operation and maintenance of rural routes to local authorities have been slammed as buckpassing by local government.

Increased local funding and marketing is needed to transform lines 'from moribund backwaters to thriving feeders for the rest of the network' according to plans unveiled by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) on Monday.

The SRA believes that clamping down on fare evasion, relaxing safety standards to take into account the smaller volumes of traffic on rural routes, and boosting passenger numbers would help achieve a 30% cut in subsidies.

The strategy also encourages authorities to incorporate rail schemes into their five year local transport plans (LTPs).

But LTPs need to be submitted by July and Cambridgeshire County Council's transport cabinet member Shona Johnstone said: 'You can't just pick something up within the next few weeks.

'I want to encourage people to use rail and I think there is a role for local authorities but buck-passing springs to mind.'

She said it would be better for extra funds to come from central government rather than relying on money generated locally.

Fifty-six lines have been designated as community lines, with seven selected to pilot the scheme (see map).

The under-used Watford to St Albans line is among the pilot routes.

The Elected Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill said: 'The government says there is no threat to the future of the line in this strategy.

'If that is true, then this is good news, enabling us to lever in funds for much needed improvements to the line.'

But she warned that the council would fight any plans to reduce the service by cost-cutting.

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