Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Got It Wrong over Railtrack, Admits Prescott

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Got It Wrong over Railtrack, Admits Prescott

Article excerpt

Byline: JO REVILL;MARK BENHAM

JOHN PRESCOTT admitted today that he "took a gamble" over the railways - and lost - when, as transport secretary, he tried to reform Railtrack.

As he struggled to defend the Government's transport record, amid huge hostility from commuters over long delays and concern that poor track repairs could lead to another major accident, Mr Prescott acknowledged that in 1997 when he took on the transport job he had taken the wrong decision over the trains.

In a radio interview this morning he said: "Where you could have proper criticism of me is, I took a gamble, I put it to the party conference that we would try to make Railtrack work. I brought in a new Strategic Rail Authority and I gave power to the rail regulator to fine them but Railtrack was so badly flawed, they couldn't implement (change) on the rails."

But he also accused the media of concentrating only on the problems of the railways, saying that far more people were leaving their cars and travelling by train and bus.

"We are now desperately trying to put in massive resources, through Gordon Brown's competency with the economy, but it is long term," he said. There had been decades of under-investment which they were now trying to correct with their 10-year transport plan.

But there was only lukewarm support for the present Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, who is reported to be facing the sack over his handling of the decision to take Railtrack back into administration. Mr Prescott said: "I'm sure that Stephen is doing the most difficult job you can. He is now facing up to the fact that Railtrack is badly flawed."

The rail industry ends a disastrous year with fresh warnings today that substandard track repairs and inadequately serviced trains could lead to another fatal accident. An official report by engineering consultants Ove Arup, commissioned by Railtrack after the Hatfield derailment in October 2000, warns that heavy trains could still cause track to buckle under pressure.

Two of Railtrack's senior managers said much of the national network is worn out and lacking basic repairs. …

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