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Rail targets will be met, says transport minister

NEWS: Labour in Brighton

TRANSPORT MINISTER John Spellar insisted this week that rail targets in the government's 10 year transport plan would be achieved.

Spellar rejected industry calls for a review of targets for a 50% rise in passenger and 80% rise in freight services by 2010.

Despite delays caused by Hatfield and fears over investment in the wake of terrorist attacks in America, Spellar said targets would be met under existing financing plans.

Speaking to NCE at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week, Spellar also quashed rumours of an imminent merger between the Office of the Rail Regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), saying it would cause turmoil.

Earlier, Spellar told a packed fringe meeting that a shortlist had been drawn up for a successor to Sir Alastair Morton as chairman of the SRA and a decision would be made shortly.

He admitted that so far the SRA had not fulfilled expectations or provided leadership to the rail industry. In a swipe at Morton, he added: 'Hopefully the new leadership will provide that'.

But Spellar ruled out a merger of the two regulators, saying stability was now required.

He stressed the need for the railways to win back public confidence, and said short term franchises would do that by getting instant results. But, he added, each franchise would be looked at individually and there was no template. Decisions would be made according to what was best for that region.

Chris Green, chief executive of Virgin Rail, told NCE that recent rumours that Virgin was to sell its rail business were 'ridiculous'.

He believed Railtrack would deliver the first phase of the West Coast Main Line upgrade on time by the end of next year, allowing trains to travel at up to 200km/h.

But trying to predict if the second phase, due to be completed by 2005, would be finished on time was like trying to predict the 'toss of a coin', he said.

He restated his company's position that 'a lot of money' would be sought in compensation if the upgrade was not delivered as contracted.

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