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Railwatch 072 - July 1997

Friends at the top

Labour failed to spell out its objectives for transport when it announced its key policy objetives in the Queen's Speech in May.

We are still not quite sure what is to be attempted.

But to have John Prescott as deputy prime minister and head of both transport and environment ministries is very promising.

He distinguished himself as an opposition transport spokesman and came up with some innovative funding ideas which, though dismissed by the Tory Government at the time were later taken up.

Mr Prescott showed himself a friend to RDS when he attended the book launch of Thomas the Privatised Tank Engine which proved highly popular.

It is also good for us to see one-time RDS member Gavin Strang as a Cabinet minister responsible for transport. And Glenda Jackson, a speaker at our rail users conference in 1995 is now transport minister responsible for London.

So far, the new Government seems to be ready to give the Rail Regulator more powers but has not yet made clear how far it will follow up on its pledge while in opposition to deliver a publicly accountable railway.

But at least in its election manifesto the party promised not to extend VAT to public transport fares. It also said it aimed to reinvigorate the Private Finance Initiative. It said: "Britain's infrastructure is dangerously run down, parts of our road and rail network are seriously neglected, and all too often our urban environment has been allowed to deteriorate.

Partners

"Labour pioneered the idea of public/private partnerships. It is Labour local authorities which have done most to create these partnerships at local level.

"A Labour government will overcome the problems that have plagued the PFI at a national level. We will set priorities between projects, saving time and expense. We will seek a realistic allocation of risk between the partners to a project. We will ensure that best practice is spread throughout government. We will aim to simplify and speed up the planning process for major infrastructure projects of vital national interest."

The manifesto made a pledge to provide "efficient and clean transport for all".

We in RDS should be able to take that as a firm commitment to rail.

The manifesto added: "All departments must promote policies to sustain the environment.

"A sustainable environment requires above all an effective and integrated transport policy at national, regional and local level that will provide genuine choice to meet people's transport needs. That is what we will establish and develop."

Specifically on railways, it said: "The process of rail privatisation is now largely complete.

"It has made fortunes for a few, but has been a poor deal for the taxpayer. It has fragmented the network and now threatens services. Our task will be to improve the situation as we find it, not as we wish it to be.

Rail goals

"Our overriding goal must be to win more passengers and freight on to rail. The system must be run in the public interest with higher levels of investment and effective enforcement of train operators' service commitments. There must be convenient connections, through-ticketing and accurate travel information for the benefit of all passengers.

"To achieve these aims, we will establish more effective and accountable regulation by the Rail Regulator. We will ensure that the public subsidy serves the public interest. We will establish a new rail authority, combining functions currently carried out by the rail franchiser and the Department of Transport, to provide a clear, coherent and strategic programme for the development of the railways so that passenger expectations are met.

"The Conservative plan for the wholesale privatisation of London Underground is not the answer. It would be a poor deal for the taxpayer and passenger alike. Yet again, public assets would be sold off at an under-valued rate. Much-needed investment would be delayed. The core public responsibilities of the Underground would be threatened. Labour plans a new public/private partnership to improve the Underground, safeguard its commitment to the public interest and guarantee value for money to taxpayers and passengers."

Environment

The manifesto said that roads must cater not just for cars, but for taxis, buses, bicycles and motorcycles.

It said that all needs must be addressed in transport planning to ensure the best mix of all

types of transport, offer quality public transport wherever possible and help to protect the environment.

"The key to efficient bus services

is proper regulation at local level, with partnerships between local councils and bus operators as an essential component.

"We remain unpersuaded by the case for heavier, 44-tonne lorries mooted by the Conservatives.

"Our concern is that they would prove dangerous and damaging to the environment.

"Our plans to reduce pollution include working with the automotive industry to develop 'smart', efficient and clean cars for the future, with substantially reduced emission levels. The review of vehicle excise duty to promote low-emission

vehicles will be continued.

We will conduct an overall strategic review of the roads programme against the criteria of accessibility, safety, economy and environmental impact, using public/private partnerships to improve road maintenance and exploiting new technology

to improve journey information.

"Public services and transport services in rural areas must not be allowed to deteriorate."

London

In London there will be a strategic authority and a mayor, each directly elected. Both will speak up for the needs of the city and plan its future. "They will not duplicate the work

of the boroughs, but take responsibility for London-wide issues - economic regeneration, planning, policing, transport and environmental protection.

"London-wide responsibility for its own government is urgently required. We will make it happen. "

But civil servants who have been implementing rail-unfriendly policies for years are still in situ.

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.


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Railfuture campaigns for cheap and convenient rail services for everyone; better links for buses, bikes and pedestrians; policies to get more heavy lorries on to rail; new lines, stations and freight terminals. In short, a better rail service and a bigger rail system for both passengers and freight.

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