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SRA freezes Central Trains investment plans

THE STRATEGIC Rail Authority's decision last week to abandon negotiations on the Central Trains franchise has this week been criticised by both short listed bidders and the local passenger transport executive.

By abandoning negotiations the franchise can run in its present form until 2004 and the SRA has effectively put billions of pounds worth of investment in the West Midlands' railways on hold.

The present seven year franchise was awarded to National Express in 1997. The collapsed negotiations were for a new 20 year contract.

If terms had been agreed the extended franchise could have started immediately, bringing forward investment. An SRA spokesman said negotiations were unlikely to restart within two years.

SRA chief executive Mike Grant said he had specified that 'any detailed proposals would have to be competitive.' He said neither would have delivered sufficient passenger benefits.

But National Express, and competing bidder Group 4, said they had not yet submitted their final detailed bids. Both had the impression negotiations were going well and were surprised at the SRA's decision.

National Express planned to spend around £1.4bn to double passenger services, buy 200 items of new rolling stock and build new lines.

The Group 4 bid also involved spending £1.4bn and included spending on new rail tunnels under Birmingham New Street.

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