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Scots want escape from 'perverse' railway laws

 

Posted 18th June 2012 | No Comments

Scots want escape from 'perverse' railway laws
Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on emailShare on printMore Sharing Services2 THE PRESENT railway laws introduced by the government at Westminster since 1993 are unnecessarily restrictive and are hampering growth, according to the Scottish Government. It is also concerned about the prospect of the next ScotRail being operated by a foreign state-owned railway,  particularly when Scottish public bodies are barred from competing.

Now, just days before the vision for Scottish railways from 2014 is expected to be unveiled by Holyrood, Scottish ministers have staged an attack on existing railway legislation, and are calling for further devolution to allow Scotland to make more of its own decisions.

Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil has written to transport secretary Justine Greening to call for increased powers.

He said it was 'perverse, and verging on the ridiculous' that state-owned companies from other countries can operate rail services in Scotland while home-based public bodies cannot.

He wrote: "As the analysis of the various outcomes from our Rail 2014 consultation progresses, I am growing increasingly concerned and frustrated at the extent to which the legislative framework currently in place for rail across Great Britain constrains the options which we are able to consider.

"While Scottish Ministers have certain powers under the Railways Act 2005, this is limited by broader rail legislation, in particular the Railways Act 1993 which privatised the rail industry.

"This means that, despite providing the overwhelming bulk of the funding, Scottish Ministers have minimal say in how railways in Scotland are operated, managed and regulated and are limited to contracting rail passenger services by means of a private sector franchise."

The increasing foreign control of railway franchises in Britain is also causing concern.

The international arm of the state-owned Dutch Railways, Abellio, took over the Greater Anglia franchise in February this year, while two of the contenders for the Intercity West Coast franchise are Abellio and a partnership of Keolis and the French national railway SNCF. Abellio is also a partner in both the Northern franchise and the Merseyrail Electrics concession.

Meanwhile, the Geman state railway Deutsche Bahn has acquired a significant stake in British railways too. It owns the Chiltern and Arriva Trains Wales franchises and the Tyne & Wear Metro concession, as well as open access operator Grand Central and freight operator DB Schenker, formerly EWS. In addition it has a 50 per cent stake in the London Overground concession.

Mr Neil has told Ms Greening: "It is perverse that largely state owned companies such as Deutsche Bahn or SNCF can operate rail services in Scotland, but a Scottish public body cannot, even in circumstances where this may be the most effective, value for money option available. This situation verges on the ridiculous when one considers that the bulk of funding for railways in Scotland is provided by the Scottish Ministers, yet our options on how these services are delivered are unduly constrained.

"Your consultation on rail decentralisation for passenger services in England suggests that improved outcomes for transport users might be achieved if more decisions relating to local services were made closer to the communities that they serve. I fully support that concept and would wish its application to Scotland. Accordingly, it is vital that the Scottish Parliament has full legislative competence with respect to the provision and regulation of rail services."

Mr Neil's call has come at a critical moment for the railway in Scotland. It is now expected that the results of the controversial Rail 2014 consultation will be announced in the Scottish Parliament this week, although it is also believed that some of its more extreme options, such as dividing Scotland into several franchises, were rejected early on. Proposals to close some little-used stations or some which are close to others also appear to have been abandoned.

But some major reforms are still possible, including the award of a closely-controlled concession instead of a franchise, while the rail union Aslef has predicted that the Caledonian Sleeper services, which have recently been promised grants worth up to £100 million for rolling stock upgrades, could also be hived off from ScotRail and become a separate operating contract.
from: http://www.railnews.co.uk/news/2012/06/18-scots-want-escape-from-perverse.html

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