A LEADING transport academic warned this week that the proposed national Strategic Rail Authority could allow Railtrack to 'play political games' to achieve higher profits.
Imperial College professor of transport and infrastructure Stephen Glaister claimed that more Government control over the railways would make it easier for Railtrack to negotiate hidden cross subsidies for 'un-commercial' projects such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link or London Underground.
'Railtrack might try and play with a politically motivated SRA to get low risk money for its shareholders,' he said.
The SRA is part of the Government's integrated transport policy and is intended to provide a single accountable body for strategic planning, supervising the rail industry and disbursal of public funds. It had been thought that lack of time in the next parliamentary session would rule out legislation to establish the body, but Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott this week announced that the bill will be pushed through if there is early approval for the House of Lords reform.
But Glaister warned that to achieve an integrated rail system the SRA would have to 'intervene in the free market'. He claimed the government would have to be prepared to pay directly for un-remunerative projects to maintain transparency, but added: 'The evidence so far is that the government is going to cut grants substantially.'
Rail industry lobby group the Railway Forum claimed the SRA would not change Railtrack's relationship with the government.
But director general David Morphet added: 'There will be parts of the network which will never be commercially independent. The
SRA will have to put menus to the government to allow ministers to decide how much they are willing to pay beyond the normal commercial provision.'