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Railwatch 073 - October 1997

Run the freight cowboys out

By Eric Layfield

There is such widespread law breaking by road hauliers that rail operators would be significantly helped in attracting business if the regulations were properly enforced.

Lorry operators' costs would increase by about 30% if they kept to the rules - and rail would be able to compete fairly on a level playing field.

That was the message to the police and government from Julia Clarke, a director of the Rail Freight Group and a non-executive director of English, Welsh & Scottish Railway.

The result would benefit everyone. Freight would increasingly be transported in a safer and more environmentally acceptable way, lorry drivers would not be under pressure from firms to break the law, other road users would not be at risk and rail companies would be rewarded for their role in operating a strictly regulated system where accidents are investigated and proper remedial action is taken.

By contrast, there are no proper investigations or effective change despite the high number of road crashes involving lorries every year.

Ms Clarke, who was speaking at the Rail Freight Group's conference in June, also rejected the road lobby's demands for 44 tonne lorries.

But she warned Railtrack that its network management statement was woefully inadequate for the development of freight.

When the Government sets up a national rail authority, it could take over the work of the Franchise Director and some functions from Railtrack. But she warned against another layer of bureaucracy. The Government's transport team was apparently too preoccupied to send a member to the conference.

  • The new Government announced in August that it had approved 12 rail freight grants worth £8 million and said it would be reducing red tape to make it easier for grants to be made in future. Just one scheme will clear the way for waste from Stratford, East London, will go by train, saving about 300,000 lorry trips. Another should reopen Boston Docks to steel trains.

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