Latest Rail News

27.09.13

Biggest rail franchise ever now open to bidders

The Government has published invitations to tender for the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) rail franchise – the biggest that has ever been let. 

The Essex Thameside competition is also now open to bidders. 

They are the first franchises to be let from the new rail franchising schedule set out in March. Bidders will be asked to set out detailed proposals of what they will deliver should they win the franchise competition. 

Successful bids should be announced next May, with the Essex Thameside franchise beginning in September 2014 to run for 15 years. The Thameslink and Great Northern elements of the TSGN franchise will also begin next September, with the Southern element being phased in by July 2015, to run for seven years.

The following five companies prequalified to bid for the TSGN franchise:

- Abellio Thameslink Limited

- First Thameslink Limited

- Govia Thameslink Railway Limited

- MTR Corporation Thameslink Limited

- Stagecoach Thameslink Trains Limited 

And these four for the Essex Thameside competition:

- Abellio Essex Thameside Limited (NV Nederlands Spoorwegen)

- First Essex Thameside Limited (FirstGroup PLC)

- MTR Corporation (Essex Thameside) Limited (MTR Corporation Limited)

- NXET Trains Limited (National Express Group PLC) 

Rail minister Simon Burns said: “Rail franchising has been a force for good on our railways and the department has been working hard to roll out its new franchising schedule. 

“These are the first invitations to tender to be issued since the independent Brown review into rail franchising, which endorsed the government’s approach to the railways.

We are now looking for innovative bids that provide value for money for taxpayers and put passengers right back at the heart of our railways.” 

But RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Despite the multi-million pound chaos of the West Coast franchising shambles the Government are back at it, offering two new gold-plated franchises to the same bunch of companies who have robbed the railways and the travelling public in broad daylight for the past two decades. 

“The cheaper and more efficient route of public ownership has been ruled out with Directly Operated Railways, who run the East Coast Mainline in the public interest, denied the right to bit for these two franchises.” 

The Government noted that the TSGN franchisee will face tough challenges:

  • Deliver services which effectively manage passenger demand throughout the period of reconstruction of London Bridge station;
  • Bring into service a new fleet of trains, equipped with new technology, to deliver additional capacity for passengers;
  • Manage the integration of other franchises’ services (that is, FCC, Southern and some Southeastern) into this combined franchise;
  • Manage the transition in a way that enables the benefits of the Government’s investment in the Thameslink Programme to be fully realised;
  • Ensure focus across the whole franchise area whilst supporting delivery of the Thameslink Programme. 

Timetable changes will start in December 2014, when London Bridge closes to through Thameslink services until 2018, after which there will be a transition to a peak service of 20tph through central London by May, then a 24tph service in the peak by December once Automatic Train Operation is in place. See RTM’s interview with First Capital Connect’s projects director Ian Duncan-Santiago for more detail on the implementation of ATO.

Of the 24tph:

  • 16 will run to and from the Midland Main Line (at least six all the way to and from Bedford);
  • Eight will run to and from the East Coast Main Line (two serving Peterborough, two serving Cambridge, and four serving Welwyn Garden City or beyond);
  • 16 will run via London Bridge (four serving Brighton, two serving Horsham or beyond, two serving East Grinstead, and two serving Three Bridges or beyond);
  • Eight will run via Elephant & Castle (four serving the Wimbledoon Loop, two serving the Catford Loop through to Sevenoaks, two serving Maidstone East or beyond as limited stop services via Bromley South).

More detail is available here (pages 37 to 65).            

But the DfT says: “Developing the timetables that will operate from 2018 will be a highly complex task. The increase in the number of services operating through the core means that there will be much greater inter-dependency between services operating north of London and those operating south of London. 

“For example, decisions about the timetable for the East Coast Main Line will now affect, and be constrained by, the timetable decisions that are taken for the Brighton Main Line. This means that, if the Department specifies highly detailed requirements about the future Thameslink service pattern (for example specifying exactly how many trains must run from each potential origin north of London to each potential destination south of London, or specifying detailed calling patterns for each service), bidders would have little or no meaningful flexibility to develop a set of timetables that maximises overall passenger benefits. On the other hand, too loose a specification presents the risk of not fully securing the anticipated benefits.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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