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19.03.14

DfT ‘options open’ on Great Western franchise

The Department for Transport (DfT) will have more options when making decisions about the future of the Great Western franchise, following the submission of a prior information notice to the Official Journal of the European Union.

In October last year, the government revealed that First Greater Western Ltd (FGW), as part of a Direct Award, would run the franchise – operating trains between London Paddington, the Cotswolds, south Wales and the south west – until September 2015.

Consideration is now being given to whether a longer, second Direct Award of up to five years would create better overall value and facilitate wider government rail projects. However, failure to lodge the prior information notice with the European Union would have prevented the government from being able to consider any Direct Award options.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The Great Western franchise provides a vital service for thousands of passengers every day and under this deal they will see real benefits.”

With FGW’s two-year Single Tender Award due to expire in September 2015, the latest procurement notice allows the DfT to explore options for the Great Western franchise including the provision of another Direct Award which could, perhaps, go to FGW.

A spokesman for FGW said: “We welcome the publication of the prior information notice in respect of the Great Western franchise.

“The DfT has always stated that any decision on the future of the franchise would be based on delivering the best value for customers and taxpayers beyond September 2015. Given the significant number of investment projects currently underway, and due to be completed over the next six years on the Great Western network, a directly awarded franchise covering the entire period of upgrades may create better overall value.”

This is the DfT’s description, taken from the prior information notice: “Contract for provision of long distance, commuter, regional and branch line train services from London Paddington to the Midlands, Cotswolds, South Wales and West of England, the South Coast, Devon and Cornwall and Gatwick airport. The franchise serves the key locations of London, Reading, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, Exeter, Plymouth, Penzance, Southampton, Portsmouth, Brighton, Newbury, Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester amongst over 270 stations, approximately 208 of which are managed by the Franchisee.

“The Franchisee operates approximately 9 000 services each week. These services would be similar to those currently operated by First Great Western (FGW), which is a subsidiary of First Group. It is anticipated that the contract may include an alliance arrangement between FGW and Network Rail.

“The rail franchise schedule announced in March 2013 anticipated that for the Great Western franchise there would be a franchise period of two years and ten months procured by direct award. In line with this, an initial direct award of 23 months has been procured and was announced on 3 October 2013. At this time it was also announced that a further, second direct award would be negotiated.

“Accordingly, a second direct award is now being planned to further facilitate the effective administration of a sustainable and well-resourced programme of franchise competitions, in line with the section 26 policy published in March 2013. Consideration is being given to whether a longer, second direct award of up to five years would create better overall value and facilitate wider government rail projects. We will engage with the supply chain to explore the viability and any advantages to a longer Direct Award.”

(Image: PA Wire / Philip Toscano)

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