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RAIL NETWORK: TRANSPORT SECRETARY MAPS OUT FUTURE

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In a statement to the house of commons on the Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) plan for the future of the rail netw...
In a statement to the house of commons on the Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) plan for the future of the rail network, transport secretary Stephen Byers set out the government's vision for Britain's railways.

Mr Byers said: 'The Strategic Plan for railways draws a line in the sand and represents the point at which we say enough is enough. Let's take the action necessary and get on with delivering a railway which is fit for the 21st century.'

The full text of the speech follows:

'With permission Mr speaker I would like to make a statement on the Strategic Plan for our railways which was published this morning by the Strategic Rail Authority.

Its publication comes at a time when industrial action is being taken against a number of the train operating companies. It is not for the government to intervene directly in disputes between private companies and their employees.

However we do believe that in this day and age disputes of this nature should be settled by negotiation and not strike action which harms the travelling public and in the longer term has the potential to damage the railway industry itself.

In these circumstances the interests of rail passengers must come first and as the prime minister said last Wednesday arbitration and the end to strike action would be the best way forward.

Mr speaker, despite the efforts and commitment of may dedicated and motivated individuals who work in the industry we do not have a railway system which is fit for the 21st century.

This is due to two principal reasons. First our railways have been subject to consistent under-investment for almost three decades.

In the 1970's and 1980's there was an environment of political disinterest as far as the railways were concerned. This led to limited funding and investment. A situation which continued during privatisation in the 1990's.

Second reason for under-performance is the failed privatisation that was Railtrack. Five years after privatisation, Railtrack still does not have a register of its basic assets - track and signals.

Costs of the West Coast mainline escalating from£2bn to perhaps some£7bn and it is only now with a new management at the top that the total mismanagement and failure to deliver on this project is becoming clear.

A lack of investment in track maintenance - cruelly exposed at Hatfield whilst at the same time£700m paid in dividends to Railtrack shareholders.

Both of these - the lack of investment and the failed privatisation have now been addressed by the government. As the director general of the CBI Digby Jones said this morning 'nettles are at last being grasped'.

Total investment each year over the next ten years will average£4.3bn in today's money. This contrasts with£1.44bn in the final five years of the last Tory government. The total subsidy from the government to the industry will increase to an average of£2.94bn a year at current prices, directly and indirectly supporting the increase in investment.

We have said that we will provide£33.5bn of public money to invest in our railways. The original provision in the ten year plan for transport was£29 bn.

The placing of Railtrack into administration on 7 October by the high court means that we now have the opportunity of seeing a new licence operator for the network who will have one overriding priority - to put the interests of rail passengers first.

So it is against this background that the Strategic Plan is being published. It is just a start but important because it is the first long term plan for the expansion of the railway for nearly 50 years. It sets basic objectives, allocates funds, identifies priorities and sets a clear timetable for delivery.

The Plan forms part of this government's agenda for modernisation for those essential services on which the public depends.

Our approach is clear across all key public services. Whether in health, education, the fight against crime or in transport.

We invest in reform and insist on results.

Between now and 2005 the priorities outlined in the plan reflect the need to tackle current problems of poor performance and lack of reliability. To develop a new structure for the industry and to implement much needed improvements across the country.

Specifically 1,700 new coaches will be delivered by 2004 to replace 30 year old slam door rolling stock on the South Central, Connex South East and South West Trains routes.

By the end of 2003 the Train Protection Warning System will be completed preventing trains going through danger signals.

£400m will be provided for a rail performance fund to help secure short term improvements.

£430m will be available for local schemes under the Rail Passenger Partnership programme.

There will be major infrastructure and rolling stock investments in the West Coast Main Line and Cross Country routes. This will lead to significant journey time reductions on the West Coast and frequencies on Cross Country services will be doubled which will be of real benefit to major regional centres like Birmingham, Liverpool, Derby, Bristol and Plymouth.

There will be improvements at 1,000 stations.

A new approach to franchising will be adopted that reflects the priorities of passengers and achieves a balance between getting the basics right in the short term with the need to invest for the long term.

The Strategic Plan contains a delivery commitment for each of the franchise areas showing in detail the improvements to be made and the time-scale for their implementation.

In the medium term the plan shows how to achieve the three core targets for the industry of increasing passenger growth by 50%; freight by 80% and a reduction in London area overcrowding. It also sets out a broader range of objectives including improvements in safety, performance and quality.

Whilst the plan does rightly focus on the short and medium term it is vital to plan for the long term. Major projects require detailed planning and analysis, robust contracting and strong and competent project management and delivery. The plan makes provision for development work now towards longer-term potential projects. These include major infrastructure improvements to the Great Western Main Line. New airport links. London Crossrail and a new north-south high speed line.

Major investment must be directed to where it is most needed. Passenger demand is highly concentrated by market and route, around 70% of all passenger journeys made nationally use the network in the South East. This means we must focus investment on the main routes both inter city and commuter which serve London.

With the scale of investment provided in the 10 Year Plan we can meet the needs of London and the South East without diverting funds from the Regional network. In addition the refranchising of regional franchises, almost all of which come to an end shortly, will provide the opportunity to improve services. The Regional networks will also benefit significantly from the doubling of frequencies on Cross Country services.

A particularly key role in the forward planning of the railway is being played by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and London.

My colleagues in Scotland welcome this document and the vision it contains of a safer, better and bigger railway system for Scotland in the future. The SRA's Plan is designed to meet the needs of Scottish passengers and freight customers and contributes to the delivery of the Scottish executive's document Strategic Priorities for Scotland's Railways.

Many of Scotland's priorities are addressed in partnership with the Scottish Executive and with Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive. In particular, the Plan includes reference to the development of Waverley station in Edinburgh to provide more capacity and better passenger facilities; and to work on rail capacity in the Central belt and on rail access to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. See LGCnetfor further details on Scotland.

The Welsh assembly is making a significant contribution alongside that which is planned by the Strategic Rail Authority over the next five years in enhancing rail infrastructure especially on Valley Lines and the Cambrian Line.

The Wales and Borders Franchise is being taken forward as a priority in the Strategic Plan. This provides a real opportunity to increase the quality and frequency of services and I expect the new franchise to be operational early next year. A good start is being made with the reopening of the Vale of Glamorgan line from Barry to Bridgend.

Wales will also benefit from the commitments made on strategic services into London including new rolling stock and track improvements. This is vitally important in improving communications for people in Wales as well as attracting business and leisure travellers to Wales.

The mayor of London is about to issue Directions and Guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority which will place a priority on better integration of railways with tube and bus services and with increased frequencies.

We also need to do more to encourage freight onto the railways. I recognise that a key element of this is intra EU freight through the Channel Tunnel. The house will be aware of attempts to enter our country illegally through the tunnel.

We must ensure that this does not happen and we will continue to press the French authorities to provide the necessary security - both physical and through police presence at the freight yards on the French side. We have made good progress on Eurostar and that needs to be matched on freight.

Under the Plan the Freight Facilities Grant will be relaunched and there will also be a£300m fund aimed at small scale freight schemes.

Britain's railway is essential to the country's economic success, social development and to environmental sustainability.

Every day the network carries 2.5 million passenger and 400,000 tonnes of freight. Each day Liverpool Street station alone handles as many passengers as all the airlines carry through Heathrow.

The railway industry is itself a key industrial sector employing 130,000 people.

An efficient rail system would relieve road congestion and improve the competitive position of British industry.

Travelling by rail is six times safer than travelling by car for each mile travelled.

Rail is Britain's most extensive and co-ordinated national public transport system.

For these reasons we need a railway that can deliver for our people and our country.

No more vague aspirations or grand visions strong on rhetoric but weak on delivery.

This plan is an agenda for action. It shows what will be achieved for the large scale investment we intend to make over the next ten years.

The Strategic Plan for railways draws a line in the sand and represents the point at which we say enough is enough. Let's take the action necessary and get on with delivering a railway which is fit for the 21st century and for the country with the fourth largest economy in the world. This plan will make an important contribution towards achieving that objective, and I commend it to the House.'

Click hereto read highlights of the Strategic Plan.

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