NATIONAL Express is ‘seeking urgent clarification’ after the Department for Transport omitted the Group from its list of shortlisted bidders for the Greater Anglia franchise, which NX runs at the moment.
Virgin, however, is one of the approved contenders for West Coast.
The next Greater Anglia, which starts in February 2012, is to run for just 17 months as part of the DfT's longer-term restructuring of the franchise pattern.
National Express had been demonstrably unpopular after it relinquished the East Coast franchise ahead of time in 2009. The transport secretary at the time, Lord Andrew Adonis, told journalists that he wanted to strip NXG of its remaining two franchises – c2c and National Express East Anglia – as well, although perhaps he was dissuaded from taking the matter further after a scrutiny of the small print in the franchise contracts.
More recently, following last year's change of government, NXG had appeared to be back in favour at the Department, having been awarded modest extensions of both its remaining franchises.
But today's list of shortlisted contenders for the next East Anglia contract has cast fresh doubt on NXG's standing in Whitehall, because the three who will now receive formal Invitations to Tender in April are Abellio Greater Anglia Limited (NV Nederlandse Spoorwegen), Eastern Railway Limited (Go-Ahead Group PLC) and Stagecoach Anglia Trains Limited (Stagecoach Group plc).
NXG chief executive Dean Finch said he would be seeking ‘urgent clarification from the Department for Transport to explain this decision’, adding: “We are naturally very disappointed. We believe we submitted a very positive and high quality pre-qualification document. We are also proud of the significant improvements delivered since we started running NXEA.”
Meanwhile, although a consultation on the next West Coast contract is still in progress, the DfT has announced the names of those bidders who will receive the ITT in May, after the consultation has concluded.
The four on the shortlist are given as Abellio InterCity West Coast Limited (NV Nederlandse Spoorwegen), First West Coast Limited (FirstGroup plc), Keolis/SNCF West Coast Limited (Keolis SA and SNCF) and Virgin Trains Limited (Virgin Group Holdings Limited).
The Department said today that it expected to announce the successful bidders for both franchises in the autumn. Greater Anglia would start on 5 February 2012 and run for 17 months (expiring in July 2013) with an option to extend by up to one year. It added: ‘This shorter franchise will allow time for reforms arising from the McNulty review into rail value for money to be properly considered and built into the terms of the subsequent Greater Anglia franchise.’
InterCity West Coast will start on 1 April 2012 and run for 14 years (expiring in March 2026) with an option to extend for a further year.
However, a complication has arisen because the Office of Rail Regulation has recently said that it will grant track access rights for West Coast for just ten years from 2012, and also expects to launch a recast West Coast Main Line timetable in December 2013. Bidders will have to bid for West Coast on the understanding that they cannot count on particular paths or timings.