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OFT ticket probe delays Nottingham tram scheme


RAILTRACK AND the Office of Fair Trading are holding up a landmark privately financed contract to construct a light rail scheme in Nottingham, NCE learned this week.

Talks with Railtrack over relocating its local heavy rail line to accommodate tram tracks, plus OFT fears that 'through ticketing' with other modes of public transport would be 'anti-competitive', are blamed for the six- month delay.

Construction of the £170M scheme to run trams from Hucknall to the north of Nottingham, 14km into the city centre, was expected to start last August. But last minute negotiations are under way to move up to 8km of the city's 'Robin Hood' rail line 2m to the east, so that the new electric system does not interfere with Railtrack operated signalling.

A source close to the project said: 'There is a danger of an electric tram interfering with Railtrack signalling which could affect the timing of the reopening of the Robin Hood line. But we will do whatever is necessary to provide a working railway.'

A Railtrack spokesman added: 'Negotiations are on-going. We hope to identify a way forward in the near future.'

But the OFT is questioning whether the private operator, Arrow Consortium, will be able to run inter-ticketing with other public transport operators. The provision in the Greater Nottingham Rapid Transit Act of 1994 allowing inter-ticketing would, it fears, be a 'cartel' according to the Competition Act which is due to become law on 31 March.

A spokesman for Arrow Consortium, which comprises Adtranz, Carillion, bus operator Nottingham City Transport and TransDev, said: 'The OFT contacted us this week to say that it needs more time to consider its position. We know the Government is doing something but there is a policy vacuum on this at the moment.'

These latest difficulties come at the end of delicate negotiations between Nottingham's city and county councils, Arrow Consortium and the banks over concession terms.

The PFI deal, which will be used as a model for other local authority infrastructure projects, is expected to be sealed at the beginning of next month.

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