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16.08.12

Industry reaction to FirstGroup West Coast win

Passenger groups, MPs and unions have responded to the award of the West Coast franchise to FirstGroup over rival bidder Virgin Trains. 

Whilst some have raised concerns over the operator’s ability to deliver such a high-value bid, or the possibility that fares may rise and jobs could be lost, others have used the opportunity to propose improved services to their area of the country via the West Coast Main Line.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the union was seeking “urgent and cast iron guarantees” that members’ jobs were safe and threatened that moves to cut services on the franchise would be met with a ballot for industrial action. 

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Passenger Focus, said: “The important thing is not the name on the side of the train, but the experience of the journey, the availability of staff when you need them and of course the value for money.” 

Corin Taylor, senior economic adviser at the Institute of Directors, cautioned: “Businesses will be watching FirstGroup’s performance closely. The contract will only be a success if passengers get the extra seats, faster journey times and smart ticketing that has been promised.

“As with all rail franchises, we hope that the train operating company will be able to fulfil the pledges of their bid and provide an improved service for passengers.” 

But Cllr Liam Robinson, chair of Merseytravel, said the company was looking forward to continuing a close working relationship with FirstGroup and specified their aspiration for two trains per hour between London and Liverpool.

And Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon in north-west Wales, Hywel Williams called for more direct services from Wales to London and to Manchester Airport and longer trains to provide more seats. 

Williams added: “With fares rising and the very strong threat of cuts to services, we will be doing what we can to make sure that pledges are honoured.” 

Ahead of the announcement yesterday, Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, warned: “Passengers are set lose out no matter which company runs the West Coast rail franchise because the new contracts allow the successful bidder to hike fares by up to 11 per cent a year, reduce services, close ticket offices and even axe CCTV from trains.” 

She addressed concerns that FirstGroup may have to charge significantly higher prices once the rail line reaches capacity and increasing revenue through growth becomes untenable. 

“It would be unacceptable if passengers ended up having to pay even higher fares to enable operators to honour the commitments they have made.” 

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

Image c. Alvey and Towers

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