Press Releases

HISTORIC PRESS RELEASE : Rail Authority Poised to Shed its Shadow [January 2001]

The press release issued by the Strategic Rail Authority on 26 January 2001.

On 1 February, the Strategic Rail Authority will emerge officially from its “shadow”. The Transport Act 2000, which received Royal Assent late last year, provided for the SRA’s establishment as a non-departmental public body to provide leadership and strategic direction for Britain’s railways and promote their development.

Sir Alastair Morton, Chairman of the SRA, will look back next Thursday at what he feels has been “perhaps the most vigorous shadow Britain has seen for decades.”

Established in June 1999 under instructions from the Deputy Prime Minister by Sir Alastair in his capacity as last Chairman of the British Railways Board, and Mike Grant as Franchising Director in charge of OPRAF (Office of Passenger Rail Franchising), the SSRA has played a high-profile role in the past 18 months, stimulating questions, answers and commitments to invest, without encouraging anyone to believe that it was there to run the railways or in some way regroup them under public control.

In a fairly regular series of policy speeches, Sir Alastair has spelled out the development of the SSRA’s thinking as it prepared for the SRA. First came the policy of franchise replacement, aimed at substituting new, longer-term, more incentivised passenger franchises in return for massively increased commitments to invest in safer, bigger and better public services. As the months passed, an outline of a new, more proactive freight development strategy began to emerge, and then an infrastructure enhancement partnership with Railtrack, evolution of which was interrupted by the Hatfield tragedy.

On 1 February, the Board of the SRA – comprising 14 non-executive members plus Messrs Morton and Grant – as Chairman and Chief Executive respectively – will meet with the SRA’s nine executive directors to review its “Strategic Agenda”.

“We have had to go slow in preparing it” Sir Alastair said today, “because we had to know how much money the SRA will have – which we learned from the 10 Year Plan in July; how much Railtrack will have – from the Rail Regulator last October; and whether Railtrack would accept that – which it did conditionally this month. We also conducted a review with industry leaders of the case, suddenly advanced after Hatfield, for massive restructuring of the industry or its ownership.”

The SRA’s Strategic Agenda is likely to be published in the third or fourth week of February.