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Duration of new FGW contract ‘undecided’, DfT says

The Department for Transport (DfT) is negotiating a directly awarded contract for First Great Western (FGW) to continue running services in the south west, but reports that the contract is for five years are “unfounded”. 

Media reports have suggested that FGW could receive a five-year ‘extension’ to run the line, but the DfT has stated “we have not yet decided how long that contract will be”. 

FGW spokesman Dan Panes told RTM the contract is not an “extension” but a new contract award, and the TOC is having to re-bid for the contract. 

He said: “This is not, and will not be, an extension of the current franchise. Just as this current franchise we’re in is not an extension of the previous one. 

“It is not true that we’re not having to bid for it. We are having to put a proposal to the DfT, and although they have not gone out to full tender on that, they have lots of options open. This would be a completely new contract with new terms, and that’s why we have got to re-bid, because the DfT have to be happy it offers value for money.” 

Panes added that when the DfT issued a procurement notice in March, which they have to do under EU rules, the maximum contract length that could be awarded was five years. “That’s the absolute maximum that they could give us,” he said. 

The RMT rail workers’ union, however, has been angered by the potential decision and the “lack of competition”. 

Brendon Kelly, from the union, told the BBC: “All the investment at current is coming from the government, nothing is coming from the private operators, they're literally just managing it and sharing out the dividends to their shareholders. 

“That’s money we could be spending on the railways.” 

A five-year contract would give time for the operator to handle the introduction of Hitachi’s new ‘Super Express’ rolling stock onto the newly-electrified parts of the Great Western. 

Panes said FGW would be best-placed to continue as the operator, having been there since the start of the electrification project. 

“We think that is the solution that would offer best value for the Department and customers. But ultimately it is the DfT’s decision to see if that argument carries any weight,” he told us. 

(Image: c. Kevin R Boyd) 

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