Rail (UK)

Arm’s length rail body

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Why are those who advocate the creation of a new ‘arm’s-length’ body to oversee the rail industry so certain that it would be any more successful than the last attempt?

Cast your minds back 16 years, to the day when Alastair Darling announced the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

As Secretary of State (SoS) he was furious that the SRA’s handling of the Periodic Review process meant that he had lost control of the Government’s financial contributi­on to the industry - both the amount of money the industry was receiving and how that money was spent.

DfT is constantly under pressure, not only from other Government department­s but also from MPs and other ‘Task Forces’ and stakeholde­rs, to invest in this or that train service. The excuse that such decisions were for the SRA to take did not satisfy stakeholde­rs and frustrated Darling.

I contend that Network Rail is as much ‘arm’s-length’ as an SoS will be able to countenanc­e, and that any new body will soon go the way of the SRA. A similar, and topical, example of such a body is to be seen in the fate of Public Health England.

Peter Foot, Bedford

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