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Railwatch 080 - July 1999

Hide and seek funding

Rail funding was one of the key concerns at the RDS annual general meeting in York on 1 May.

An emergency motion from Gordon Bestwick, a regular Robin Hood Line commuter was approved unanimously:

"This AGM condemns the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising's failure to fund the Robin Hood Line, an experimental service sponsored by local authorities under the Speller Act.

"The line has now carried 3 million passengers, is an essential part of the local public transport network, and should be incorporated into the franchising system. The AGM instructs the RDS campaigns director, other officials and relevant committees to pursue this with OPRAF and the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions as a matter of urgency."

Mr Bestwick went on to explain: "The North Midlands branch feels this is a national issue - an acid test of the Government's commitment to rail."

"In a sensible world, with road and rail transport competing on a level playing field, an urban passenger railway such as the Robin Hood Line should be able to pay its way. However, in the meantime, we have to hold out the begging bowl to central government for an operating subsidy.

"The local authorities are reluctant to continue subsidising the line, and in any case their spending is controlled by central government, which makes no allowance for Robin Hood Line operating costs.

"There is a rail spending allowance for local authorities in passenger transport authority areas, but not for others. However, the PTAs can't reopen lines either. West Yorkshire has great problems because it won't receive any additional finance to reopen the Halifax to Huddersfield route.

"The Government's pronouncements about encouraging a shift from road to rail are just a load of hot air. All new reopening schemes are effectively stalled unless they can be carried out as strictly commercial ventures."

Three weeks later, the Franchise Director announced details of the new Rail Passenger Partnership fund, writes Nick Dibben.

The idea was announced in the Government's Transport White Paper and provides funds for rail based projects that are justified on commercial grounds.

The Franchise Director's office has already carried out a series of briefing meetings for local authorities to explain how the sytem will work.

The RPP can be used for both capital expenditure and revenue support and £130million will be available over the next three years. Possible schemes include improved facilities, disabled access, security improvements and additional services.

Matched funding is required from either local authorities, rail companies or the private sector. Unlike many other Government grants, there is no annual bidding process and applications may be submitted at any time.

Obtaining funds will be a two stage process, an initial pre-qualification to check that the scheme is suitable followed by the formal bid. OPRAF hopes that applications can be processed in four to five months.

To assess schemes, OPRAF is issuing new planning criteria. These will apply to all rail projects including changes to PSRs and franchise plans. The criteria are based on a social cost-benefit framework and consider such items as safety, environment, economy, accessibility and integration. Similar methods are being used for road schemes, so the goal of a level playing field moves a little closer! It will be interesting to see how electrification schemes fare under the new assessment.

Franchise Director Mick Grant said: "This is new money and provides a real opportunity for interested parties to ensure that service enhancements are concentrated on initiatives which meet local needs and provide value for passengers and the taxpayers. I look forward to a healthy response."

It is a first stage in preparing a 'comprehensive strategic plan for Britain's railways".

Details: www.opraf.gov.uk

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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