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Mayor 'will lack power on rail plans'

LONDON'S NEW mayor will be 'impotent' to influence rail decisions and so will fail to achieve an integrated transport system in the capital, transport experts claimed this week.

Under the Greater London Authority Bill, now being debated in the House of Lords, the mayor would be responsible for a strategic network of roads, the Underground and bus and taxi services.

But Transport Planning Society chairman Keith Gardner, speaking at a conference on the future of rail commuting in London, said the mayor would be left with only 'very weak powers' over rail planning.

'There has been long standing tension between the need to incorporate rail into the city's planning and the Government's view that it is a national asset. The fact that the Bill will not resolve this is a great shame,' he said.

Rail accounts for 60% of commuter journeys into London and is the main way into the city from south of the Thames. The Bill says the mayor will only be able to 'give guidance' to the rail franchising director and will do nothing if it 'affects railway services outside London'.

Transport planners fear this could scupper attempts to add additional parkway stations or to integrate rail services with the Underground.

ICE Transport Board chairman David Bayliss said the Government was in danger of missing 'a golden opportunity' to reduce congestion in London. He added that there were 'no signs that the Government is keen to introduce changes to the Bill'.

London First director of transport Irving Yass added: 'Our concern is that there is a tendency for the rail authorities to give precedence for longer distance services. We want to see a mechanism in which the mayor is given real weight to influence decisions'.

But deputy rail franchising director Chris Stokes gave assurance that the mayor will have 'quite strong powers' over rail planning. 'He will give us guidance and we will implement that, unless it falls foul of distinct national interests,' he said.

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