14 January 2002
Britain has announced plans to invest more than $80 billion in its ailing railways over the rest of this decade. Complaints about the railways have become a major headache for Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The British government has presented a long-awaited plan to improve the national railway system, which has been plagued by delays, accidents and strikes.
The plan calls for spending $49 billion in public money and attracting $34 billion in private investment between now and 2010. Much of the spending will be on rail lines in and around London, where millions of commuters ride trains to get to work. The government says this is the first plan in 50 years to expand British rail services.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has recognized the growing public clamor for better railroads, as he explained on British television. "Unless we renew fundamentally the railways infrastructure in this country," he said, "then we're not going to put the railways in the state people want them in."
Still, Britain's beleaguered rail passengers say they are skeptical the government's plan will improve service anytime soon. John Balmforth, who heads the Rail Passengers Association, explained, "It's all promises, but not enough money, I don't think, to provide the results that we need to give us a decent railway."
Christian Wolmar, a rail analyst for British industry, said the government plan lacks the vision seen elsewhere in Europe. "In France, they basically decided in the '60s to revamp their railways and have these high-speed trains, and they've got them now in Spain and Italy and Germany, and we decided not to do that," he said, "and that was a mistake, which I think we should be addressing now."
Meanwhile, rail commuter groups are making plans for a one-day boycott of the trains on March 1 to dramatize their complaints about low-quality service and high ticket prices.