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Railwatch 068 - July 1996

Labour will change the points

British Rail will stage a comeback if Labour wins the general election. Franchising of rail services will stop while responsibility for running trains will be given back to a revamped British Rail which will have new aims - to increase rail use.

The new Labour policy called Consensus for Change - launched in late May - will also commit Labour to setting national and local targets for shifting freight from road to rail. There will be targets for improving public transport and reducing traffic congestion.

The BR board will have some worker representation but the main aim of the board would be to return the railways to an "integrated whole". The Office of Passenger Rail Franchising would be abolished and its powers would go to a reformed BR which would be a "stakeholder" company. The Rail Regulator would be used to secure higher levels of investment and to protect the interests of passengers and taxpayers.

Transport spokesman Brian Wilson said Railtrack would be prevented from selling land which might be needed for the development of rail freight. He highlighted the fact that rail freight users paid 60% of "track charges" while road hauliers paid only 20% of "track charges". Instead of public subsidy going to the train operators it would be routed towards the infrastructure with the aim of achieving lower track access charges and so increasing use of the railways.

The party said it wants to provide a broad strategy for the next 20 years. Buses will be brought back into a regulatory structure and company car taxation would be "reviewed". Local authorities would be cleared to introduce more 20mph zones and pilot schemes for road tolls in congested areas.

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