Headlines: October 1st, 1998

The Government’s announcement of sweeping changes to Britain’s railway operating system gives an example of the determination it has to ensure public services meet public expectation.Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has signalled that he intends to get round seemingly insurmountable problems with the privatised system.Despite the fact that the companies operating franchises have already agreed deals to run sections of the rail network for several years, he has announced that he intends to re-negotiate those contracts.

And though the setting up of a new controlling body for the railways could take 18 months to set up, he intends to set up a ‘shadow’ organisation virtually straight away until such legislation is in place.

The ‘shadow’ Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) will lead changes to the way the privatised railway is controlled.Mr Prescott also confirmed that he would be giving passengers a greater say through representation on the Board of the SRA.

But he said that the biggest problem with the railways lay in the franchises already operating: “We cannot wait for the next round of franchising to secure commitments from the private sector to providebetterperformance, more investment and greater responsiveness to passengers’ needs.

“That is why I am opening the books for re-negotiation of the Franchise Agreements. I will look for proposals that would commit train operators to higher standards of punctuality and reliability, leading to a progressive
improvement in services to passengers.”

Mr Prescott’s office says more detailed criteria for the re-negotiation of
franchises will be published shortly.