TRAIN OPERATORS have reacted to being slated by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott last week by demanding that he implement a shadow strategic rail authority before next year.
Prescott's verbal battering was delivered at the Labour Party conference where he was cheered when he threatened to 'call time' on operators which failed to improve punctuality.
He said he would give the rail industry a 'spring clean' by setting up a 'shadow' rail authority by early next year, ahead of legislation for a Strategic Rail Authority. He added that any companies with cold feet should 'hand back the keys'.
But Great North Eastern Railways chief executive Christopher Garnett accused Prescott of dragging his feet. He claimed that far from running scared, the industry would like to see new powers enforced faster.
'The sooner we get on with the Strategic Rail Authority the better. Don't let us wait the six months that the Deputy Prime Minister has outlined,' he said.
Garnett claimed the industry was being prevented from developing the network by uncertainty over franchise lengths. His own company applied for its franchise to be renewed last November so it could commit investment to Railtrack's planned East Coast Main Line upgrade. He claimed to have had no response.
'We are now hoping to sit down and to start to negotiate in the light of this speech,' he said.
The shadow authority will be set up using the existing British Railways Board, which will be empowered to advise Government on strategy and operate trains if necessary.
Prescott's personal adviser Joe Irvine told NCE: 'The BRB has broad permissive powers and should be effective as a voluntary authority because the industry knows legislation is on the way.'