THE STRATEGIC RAIL Authority could dilute local transport funding and force the closure of rural rail lines, local authorities and passenger transport executives warned this week.
Giving evidence on the planned Rail Bill to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on Wednesday, Passenger Transport Executive Group chairman Chris Mulligan said the SRA presented 'a very real danger' to local transport provision. Under the Bill the SRA would be responsible for funding both local heavy rail and light rapid transport schemes as well as developing a strategy for the national network.
'It should remain the role of the PTEs to assess transport needs. Funding should be provided by central government rather than passing through a policy filter in the SRA,' said Mulligan.
Local Government Association Transport Executive chairman councillor Mark Dowd described parts of the Bill as 'senseless'. He warned there were signs that the SRA would close some rural rail lines in favour of lower cost bus services.
Dowd said: 'Given the stable base level of rail services and passenger numbers over the past 20 years and recent increases in patronage on a number of rural lines, the Association sees no justification for any new proposals for rail service withdrawals.'
He added that under planned integrated transport legislation local authorities would be expected to promote local rail plans under their Local Transport Plans. But the Rail Bill would not place a duty on the SRA to build effective partnerships with local and regional government when it evolved its own strategies.
'A promise of firm guidance from the Secretary of State would not be sufficient to ensure that effective partnerships are maintained,' Dowd concluded.
The Select Committee is expected to report to the Government on 12 November.