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Engineers wrest back control of the railways

ENGINEERING WILL remain at the heart of Network Rail's future plans, chief executive John Armitt said this week after being asked by the government to lead the whole rail industry.

Transport secretary Alastair Darling handed Armitt increased powers and responsibilities in his long awaited 'Future of Rail' White Paper this week, and scrapped the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) in a bid to simplify the industry.

Once legislation is passed - expected early in 2005 - Armitt will become responsible for all rail performance and have the power to set and alter timetables to best suit the needs of the whole railway.

'It has always been our job to provide clear vision and direction for the industry, ' said Armitt. 'The White Paper has taken the previous structure and sought to fine tune it. We have now got to work closely with the train operating companies but we won't do that without good engineering.'

Darling said his proposals would 'simplify relationships in the industry and put in place a new structure fit to deliver the improvements that the public expects'.

The government will in future set strategic operating targets for Network Rail to achieve, including efficient use of the network, reliability, efficiency and passenger satisfaction.

In return Network Rail will set the timetable and be able to carry out small to medium sized enhancement projects without reference to the government (see box).

'Network Rail will provide operational leadership for the industry and will be held to account for all aspects of network performance, ' says the White Paper.

The White Paper also hands budget control back to the Department for Transport and sees rail safety responsibility pass to the rail regulator from the Health and Safety Executive.


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