Shaw Privatisation proposals get mixed response
Reaction to the interim Shaw Report on how Network Rail should be financed has provoked mixed responses from the rail community. Shaw outlined 12 options on page 59 in her scoping report, the most controversial being full or partial privatisation.
The Guardian reported on the 12th that FirstGroup chief executive, Tim O’ Toole, cautioned against any drastic changes: “For the most part some dramatic redesign of the industry would represent more delays than it would actually fix anything. In some respects this is a phoney crisis. The costs in the ORR determination aren’t turning out that way – mainly because those estimates were made way too early and too optimistically. I don’t think you solve that problem by changing the state of the industry and going through some seismic shift.”
LTT approached FirstGroup for further clarification and a spokesman said: “We are not necessarily in favour of significant structural changes because they would create more disruption and delay to the important work of increasing capacity on the nation’s railways. The most important thing we’d like to see from the reviews of Network Rail is better and earlier coordination of planned work. TOCs can help NR do this more effectively by getting more involved in joint project planning at an earlier stage and thereby improve performance over time.”
But Northern Rail’s managing director, Alex Hynes, told the recent TransCity Rail North conference that public funding alone could not fund the high levels of investment required: “Foreign money wants to flood into British assets. We’ve got to leverage in private sector money into this industry, otherwise it’ll go pop – and why do we assume it can only come from the public sector? There’s loads of people who want to lend us huge amounts of money.”
A more guarded response came from Stagecoach. A spokesman told LTT: “Whatever future direction emerges from the Shaw Review, it should be one that delivers three key objectives: a better service for customers, communities and our economy; the best value for taxpayer investment; and a sustainable and deliverable plan to accommodate future growth in the network.”
Any privatisation plans -whether full or partial – would inevitably impact on rail devolution, so LTT also contacted various regional administrations for responses. A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We believe that powers over rail infrastructure should be devolved to Wales. We will be responding to the consultation on the first stage of the Shaw Report in due course.” TfL declined to comment, and Mersey Travel (which has a self contained rail system) failed to respond.
In Scotland, Keith Brown, who has two portfolios (as cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities, as well as that of transport minister) met Nicola Shaw last month and pressed the case for the full devolution of Network Rail in Scotland, arguing that this would benefit rail users and strengthen NR’s accountability to the Scottish Parliament and ministers.
Brown has now written to transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, seeking in-principle agreement to full devolution, and suggesting that a joint Scottish Government/UK Government project team be established to study detailed options.