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Anything but splitting franchises

It’s a turbulent time for the rail industry at the moment, what with the upcoming Shaw Report, early signs of potential asset privatisation across Network Rail, and even a looming shake-up of how operators run services in the UK.

A short poll of some of RTM’s readers recently found that the majority of them believe Network Rail should keep control of all its major stations. This came just a few days after the infrastructure owner admitted it had hired Citigroup bankers to review how it could privatise parts, or all, of its 18 maintained stations.

Earlier this week, we launched another poll to see what readers thought of the CMA review on the future of rail franchising in the UK. It turns out it’s a tighter race than we imagined: while 51% of surveyed readers believe the best long-term solution for the industry is to replace franchises with a reformed licensing model, another 40% vouch for increasing the number and role of open access services.

Both options were endorsed by the CMA report, although at different times – increasing the participation of open access TOCs on intercity routes would be a first step, implemented from the moment the East Coast Main Line franchise is next renewed in 2023.

But in the long term, the review suggested a complete overhaul of the franchising system, replacing it with a multiple licensing model.

Much less popular, however, was the third option endorsed by the CMA, which would see franchises split between an ‘anchor franchisee’ and a second franchisee running alongside it to enhance competition on the same routes. Just 9% of surveyed RTM readers thought this would bring any benefits in the long term.

Phil Deaves, network development manager at Great Western Railway, said this model sounded remarkably like the Northern/TransPennine arrangement, but questioned whether it would be fair and efficient across the board, or if it would allow for growth.

“Certainly there was a good argument for combining the Northern and TransPennine franchises that the proposed arrangement ignores,” he said.

Other readers argued that “we could certainly do” with a competing service from Manchester to London: “How about East Midlands Trains running to St Pancras as happened in immediate pre-Pendolino days? In the longer term, re-opening the Midland route between Peak Forest and Matlock would relieve the congestion on the WCML too.”

One reader questioned what arrangements would be in place to protect passengers in the event of disruption, adding: “Would your ticket be available on the next service and not just the next one provided by your ticket supplier? You could also ask about how flexible open tickets would work for business people. A major incentive here is frequency of train service but if it frequency is effectively halved by two operators then this benefit is lost.”

Two other readers thought the proposals were interesting, but mostly because the UK rail industry needs a “solid structure” and because the current franchising model is “outdated” and needs to be “[modernised] to the DOR type model”, with any profit “ploughed back to offset taxes”.

(Top image c. Alex Thorkildsen)


John   11/03/2016 at 12:57

One which I would like to see is the present awful Stanstead Airport - Birmingham New Street service taken away from the XC Trains Franchise. Theservice goes from bad to worse with chronic overcrowding on silly two coach class 170 Turbostars that are getting really clapped out.

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