Darling pledges for rail future

15 March 2006

ASLEF EC President Alan Donnelly welcomed a speech made today by Trade Minister Alistair Darling at the business-oriented National Rail Conference in London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Alan said, ‘I have never doubted the minister’s intentions. But I question his ability to deliver the change he wants within a privatised free-market rail system.

 

‘In his own words today, the minister says, ‘For four years I have been asking the industry to concentrate on reliability’. This is our point. The government shouldn’t have to ask: it should be in a position to direct and to manage.

‘If government really believes it is right to control national communications from the centre, as we do, then the way to do it is not to renew franchises when they expire, but to take rail back into the public service.

 

‘However, it is heartening to see the government expressing a positive commitment to the future of rail. We at ASLEF share much the same vision – especially the desire to see more passengers and more freight carried by rail.

 

‘The question is how to deliver it.’

 

In his speech today the minister talked about the £60 million to be invested in Kings Cross station, and the development work that will accompany the Olympic Games.

 

He says spending has doubled over recent years ‘making up for decades of underinvestment’ – the union’s concern is how much of this is unnecessary expenditure caused by privatisation. Also, the minister did not announce more money for rail – he said that next year he will ‘set out firm plans on what we want to buy over the next five years to achieve the capacity, performance and safety we need’. ASLEF would have hoped this could be done sooner – and indeed expected it in today’s speech.

 

Alistair Darling also points to real improvements in performance and reliability since 2001. ‘On many lines 90% of passenger trains are now running on time. New rolling stock is coming into service,: about 40% has been replaced in the last 10 years.’ He also referred to Trans-Pennine Express Franchise delivering over £250m investment between Manchester and Hull, which the union fully supports.

 

He spelled out the environmental advantages of rail, projected double-decker trains for the south east to relieve commuter congestion, stressed the need for freight links and talked about the challenges of replacing the 125 train.

 

The minister concluded with a commitment from government to publish a strategy next year that looks to the long term.

 

For more information about the minister’s speech today, please see

http://www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_railways/documents/page/dft_railways_611336.hcsp

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