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Mixed reception to 50% cut in rail freight charges

RAIL REGULATOR Tom Winsor's decision to cut freight access charges by half has drawn a mixed response from the industry this week.

Freight industry experts welcomed Winsor's proposals but remained sceptical that the Government and the Strategic Rail Authority would give Railtrack the subsidy to cut charges by as much as 50%.

They added that cuts of more than 50% were needed to meet the 80% increase in rail freight outlined in the Government's ten year transport plan.

In a report published this week Winsor agrees that Railtrack's freight access charges are too high. He adds that Railtrack has for too long treated freight as a 'nuisance and an impediment to the running of a passenger railway'.

The amount Railtrack spends on freight will now have to be published, allowing operators to compare it with charges levied.

Winsor hopes the changes will prevent Railtrack abusing its monopoly position and promote competition between operators.

Government money will be used to cover the difference between earlier revenue estimates and the new proposed levies, meaning Railtrack will not lose out. But to achieve the 50% reduction, more money is required from the Strategic Rail Authority.

Analysis carried out for English Welsh & Scottish railways, the country's biggest operator, suggested that to offset the introduction of the larger 44t lorries and cuts in fuel duty, and to help the industry win back confidence after the Hatfield rail crash, a 58% cut was required.

To promote 80% growth in rail freight, a 64% reduction was required, bringing the average toll down to £2.50 per thousand gross tonne miles, from the present £5.85 average.

Graham Smith, planning director for EWSR, agreed that the document was a step in the right direction, but was 'not convinced yet'.

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