Comment

01.09.12

The next West Coast franchise

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

David Crausby, Labour MP for Bolton North East, outlines to RTM his concerns about the new franchise.

We have just found out that FirstGroup has won the bidding war to take over the franchise for the West Coast Main Line that is currently run by Virgin Trains.

As this franchise is so important, I would hope that the bidding process would see companies compete to see who could provide passengers with the best possible levels of service and the most value for money. However, rumours surrounding the bidding process gave me great concern that this was being made a secondary priority over who could squeeze the most money out of the franchise to return to the Government.

We now know that FirstGroup offered the Government almost £1bn more than Virgin Trains for the 15-year franchise. What concerned me was the question of where this huge amount of extra money was to come from.

It was reported in the Guardian that FirstGroup plan to make up to 800 people unemployed by reducing train and catering staff. Shops and catering services would disappear from trains so that more seats can be fitted. The trains may be fast but a trip from London to Glasgow still takes a long time and I’m sure that people appreciate being able to buy food and drink while they travel.

In these difficult economic times each of these lost jobs could be a tragedy for the individuals involved. If that is not reason enough to protect these jobs, we must consider that this move would not provide any benefit to passengers.

We already have some of the highest rail fares in Europe and passengers are right to expect a reasonable level of service at these prices. If the catering services are withdrawn then passengers would rightly question why savings are not being passed on to them. They would expect to see ticket prices fall, but Government announcements suggest that more rises are on the way.

I wrote to the transport secretary to ask for passengers to be placed at the heart of this decision and received no response.

Now the decision has been taken I hope that FirstGroup are able to deliver on the grand promises that they have been making, but I will continue to campaign for passengers to receive a high quality service and for jobs to be protected.

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