DfT sets out franchise extensions for FirstGroup and c2c
The Government has outlined how franchises ‘paused’ during the controversy over the West Coast contract will be handled, following the findings of the Brown review.
The DfT is starting negotiations with current operators First Great Western, First Capital Connect and c2c to extend their franchises while longer-term options are explored.
The Great Western, Essex Thameside and Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern franchises were all paused last year once “serious errors” came to light over the award of the West Coast franchise to FirstGroup.
The Essex Thameside franchise competition is to be resumed with a revised invitation to tender for a 15-year contract issued to bidders over the summer while negotiations for an interim contract with c2c of up to two years take place.
The Great Western competition has been cancelled and negotiations for a two-year extension with First Great Western are taking place while longer term proposals will be set out in the spring.
The competition for Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern will be resumed with the DfT working towards awarding a seven-year contract. The current franchise operated by First Capital Connect has a 28-week extension that the department aims to exercise.
“In parallel with negotiations with existing operators to continue running their services, directly operated railways will also be undertaking the minimum necessary preparations to take over services in case terms cannot be agreed,” the DfT said.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he “does not believe it would be appropriate to reimburse bidders” for their costs.
He added: “These plans mark an important step on the way to restarting the franchising programme, and while I am determined this should happen as quickly as possible we do need time to get this right.
“We have had to take some tough decisions regarding franchising, and while they may provide a challenge in the short term, I believe the lessons we have learnt will help deliver a more robust system in the future benefitting fare payers and taxpayers alike.
“As always our priority is to ensure these changes will not impact on services or our commitment to improving the railways. Our latest step towards delivering a high-speed rail network which will link many of our major cities by a new fleet of state-of-the-art trains is testament to how we are delivering on that commitment.”
In the spring a further statement will be made on franchising policy, based on the Brown review’s recommendations and the Transport Select Committee’s Rail 2020 report.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The day the lid was lifted on the sordid fiasco on the West Coast the Government are at it again doling out lucrative two year contract extensions around the country with Directly Operated Railways on hand to sweep up the mess if it all falls apart. The lies, deceit and racketeering of rail privatisation have to be called to a halt now.”
Stephen Locke, chair, London TravelWatch said: “The success of Transport for London’s London Overground service has shown how the franchising system can use a more comprehensive set of measures of quality to improve all aspects of services for passengers and ensure that the services provided reflect their needs.”
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Image c. FirstGroup