Group set up to assume railway network control

A rail group will be created at the Department for Transport (DfT) to set railway strategy and monitor performance, transport secretary Alistair Darling announced last week.

The Railways Bill plans to abolish the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and transfer its responsibilities and financial obligations to the DfT, as promised in the white paper published in July (Planning, 23 July, p14).

Regulation of all aspects of the rail industry will be brought under the Office of Rail Regulation.

The Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Executive will be given greater powers under the bill, while passenger transport executives (PTEs) in England will become co-signatories to rail franchise agreements. Transport for London will have PTE-style powers in the capital.

Rail Passengers Council chairman Stewart Francis said: "This bill paves the way for the type of change that passengers have been telling us they want to see."

But Passenger Transport Executive Group chairman Kieran Preston commented: "The government has said that it wants to devolve more responsibilities for local rail networks to regional bodies like the PTEs. But we are baffled by a bill that will take away the powers we already have and put them at the secretary of state's discretion."

Transport 2000 criticised the bill for lacking any vision for railway growth. It described the proposals as making a mockery of government targets for cutting emissions, reducing road casualties and opening up work opportunities to the socially excluded.

The Railways Bill can be viewed via

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