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Debate casts doubt over Tube plans

SERIOUS DOUBTS still hang over the proposed options to fund and operate London Underground, according to speakers at a debate last week on the best way forward for the Tube.

Both Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College, and Tony Poulter, head of private finance at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, accepted that it was still virtually impossible to predict how the various proposals might work in practice.

The debate - hosted by the Railway Civil Engineers Association in London - was on the Government's current public private partnership plans for the Tube.

This will see the network infrastructure split into three sections and passed to the private sector with operations carried out by the public sector.

Glaister, a long time supporter of a publicly backed bond issue to finance maintenance and improvements on the Underground, urged Mayor Ken Livingstone to stop fighting the Government's proposals.

He said the Mayor should allow bidders to continue to the point of signing PPP deals but appoint an independent body to oversee and analyse the process.

In parallel, he added, plans for a bond issue alternative should be drawn up and the Government committed to underwriting the risk of the PPP not delivering value for money and having to be abandoned.

Glaister used the New York subway system as an example.

This, he pointed out, turned around a crisis in 1980 by raising more than £14M using eight different bond types.

But he said that if the PPP proved a viable option, then it should go ahead. If it did not stack up, said Glaister, Livingstone would have a bond issue alternative in place.

Poulter, who led the PwC team that originally advised the Government on options for funding the Tube, admitted that the current proposals were not necessarily the right way to go.

But he insisted the Government's PPP plans highlighted its commitment to the Underground system, and said that the PPP was better than relying on public funding or private contracts with no investment. The national heavy rail network, he added, showed how privatisation could generate the funds to rectify problems caused by lack of investment in the past.

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