Press Releases

HISTORIC PRESS RELEASE : Building a Better Railway – Morton sets out Strategic Agenda for Britain’s Railways [March 2001]

The press release issued by the Strategic Rail Authority on 13 March 2001.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) today publishes its Strategic Agenda, prepared under the personal direction of its Chairman, Sir Alastair Morton.

The 52 page text of the SRA’s Strategic Agenda is in three parts – the Context, the Challenges and the Agenda – as Sir Alastair and his colleagues look at the pressures and the judgements that have shaped today’s unsatisfactory situation; at the issues and objectives confronting the SRA; and at the SRA’s immediate agenda this year, covering four principal areas:

  • Passenger franchising: The Agenda describes progress with franchise replacement and sets out clearly the next steps, including details of how the remaining franchises are to be replaced;
  • Freight development, based on encouraging competition, and innovation, increasing capacity, providing more terminals and financial support to get freight off road and onto rail.
  • Infrastructure enhancement, recognising Railtrack’s two distinct businesses – operations and maintenance, and major projects. The SRA’s role focuses on the latter and the Agenda sets out how, assisted by the Rail Modernisation Fund, the SRA will work to deliver the biggest Public/Private Partnerships in Europe.
  • Ancillary but necessary developments in other areas, including better training and development of staff, building project management skills as well as more research, new equipment and information systems for passengers.

A series of quotes extracted from the Strategic Agenda is attached to this release. The document itself is published with a list of enhancement schemes and a number of annexes.

The Preface to the Strategic Agenda (attached) spells out why the SRA has good reason to present this as work in progress towards a Strategic Plan which will appear in the autumn, about nine months after the formal establishment of the SRA.

Work in Progress it may be, but today’s Strategic Agenda makes very clear the broad span of the SRA’s preparations to stimulate, guide and shape the development of the system. The text cannot be comfortable reading for everyone.

As Sir Alastair said today:

This document is not a call for re-nationalisation, nor for vertical integration, nor for revolutionary structural change. It is a call to the industry for a radical improvement in management, in operations, in method and performance and in service culture in the railway.

It may disappoint commentators that after 175 years of evolution, and seven years of privatisation, the perfect fix is not available in months – but it is in the nature of railways contained within a straitjacket of available rights of way to move forward in carefully planned, slowly implemented steps – or chaos will ensue.

The SRA’s Strategy will be investment-led and long term, to develop a safer, better and bigger railway system, well integrated with other forms of transport.”

The SRA has not only had to engage with passenger and freight train operators and overcome Railtrack’s reluctance last year (but no longer) to commit to the Public Private Partnership described by the SRA as utterly fundamental to its investment-led strategy. The SRA has also had to engage with Government from the Prime Minister and, particularly, the Deputy Prime Minister down to front-line officials in the Treasury and DETR as well as with relevant agencies such as ORR and HSE; and with new devolved governments in Scotland, London and Wales; and with local government and planning bodies across England. It has had to engage with City professionals in the development of innovative funding and it has had to foster the positive development of Rail Passenger Committees, and listen to the ultimate customer more than was usual in the past. All these in a time of great stress for the industry, out of which the SRA is asked on all sides to forge strong structures.

Summing up his presentation today, Sir Alastair said, The thesis of privatisation has been thoroughly confounded by growth, which has bought great pressure onto an ageing, under-invested system. Guided by the SRA, privatisation is now evolving into a huge Public Private Partnership. We have lift-off because we have consensus on the objectives and are working to develop detail and momentum. The SRA is engaged on many fronts: the industry is sworn to work together and with it

The workload is heavy, but the prize – a safer, better and bigger railway offering satisfactory returns on investment – is of the greatest national importance.