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Morton confident Government will honour rail funding pledge

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SHADOW STRATEGIC Rail Authority Chairman Sir Alastair Morton was this week adamant that the Government would provide the cash necessary to kick-start Britain's rail network revival.

Speaking exclusively to NCE after giving a lecture to the British section of the National Council of Engineers and Scientists of France on Tuesday night, Morton said he remained confident that despite the Treasury's lack of enthusiasm, the Government would honour its rail funding commitments.

'For around £1bn a year in subsidy and something less than that in direct investment and support, the Treasury can enable Britain's railways to deliver the investment it needs,' he said. Without this cash, he added, 'you can tear up the tracks'.

Public sector funding, he explained, would combine with 'large flows of private sector capital' to produce the public private funding structure needed to deliver much of the £52bn investment plan outlined in Railtrack's Network Management Statement (NCE last week).

Morton said he was in no doubt that the Government supported the logic of the approach. However, to provide the subsidies needed it would have to increase funding in the summer's Comprehensive Spending Review.

'This has been accepted by the Prime Minister,' said Morton. 'I can't imagine him going back on his word.'

Morton praised the support of Tony Blair and his deputy John Prescott, but made it clear that he was still facing resistance from the Treasury.

'We have to ask - will the Treasury tolerate investment to confirm the success of British transport's modal shift back to rail?' he said. 'Luckily it's no longer a simple question of a yes or no from the Treasury. If it were I think it might say no. It has not yet understood therailways. I think it's up to Treasury to let me get on with the job.'

Recent reports in the national press have suggested that Morton was ready to resign if funding was not forthcoming. But he maintained the stories were speculation without substance. He added that it was also no secret that his health had not been good, but claimed it would not prevent him doing his job.In a wide ranging speech, Morton praised Railtrack's decision to take on leading US programme management firms to augment capital project capacity, adding 'we need still more'.

On rail freight he said 'huge investment' was needed to develop the Piggyback system to carry container freight, as well as develop alternative routes to the heavily trafficked East and West Coast Main Lines.

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