THE DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT has revealed the first stage of its rescue plans for the franchising process, following the publication of the Brown Review. Some contracts are being extended, while the competition for Great Western has been cancelled.
The present Great Western franchise will now run until October, because the DfT has exercised its contractual right to extend the contract by 28 weeks -- or seven railway reporting periods. Negotiations with FirstGroup for an additional two-year contract on a 'single bidder' basis will now start.
Two other competitions, for Essex Thameside and Thameslink, will be resumed where they left off, but once again emergency short contracts lasting up to two years are to be negotiated with National Express and FirstGroup.
The present First Capital Connect franchise will also be extended by 28 weeks from its previous termination date of September this year, so that its next two year contract, if agreed, would start in spring 2014.
The DfT said its company Directly Operated Railways is standing by to take over if any negotiations fail, while longer-term proposals for all outstanding franchises will be announced by the DfT in the spring.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “These plans mark an important step on the way to restarting the franchising programme, and while I am determined this should happen as quickly as possible we do need time to get this right.
“We have had to take some tough decisions regarding franchising, and while they may provide a challenge in the short term, I believe the lessons we have learnt will help deliver a more robust system in the future benefitting fare payers and taxpayers alike. As always our priority is to ensure these changes will not impact on services or our commitment to improving the railways."
Speaking to Railnews just after the announcement had been made, FirstGroup's managing director of UK Rail, Vernon Barker, said First would continue to work with the DfT on the various upgrades which are taking place on Thameslink and First Great Western, such as the reconstruction of London Bridge and Reading stations, and electrification to Oxford, Newbury and South Wales.
He also welcomed the opportunity of maintaining continuity for the time being, and said other innovations would continue where possible.
However, it appears that franchise bidders will lose out to some extent, because the DfT does not intend to reimburse the costs of preparing bids which were in progress before all franchising was suspended in October.
The DfT said: 'In keeping with the relevant invitations to tender, which made clear that bidders are responsible for their own costs, the Secretary of State does not believe it would be appropriate to reimburse bidders.'
Vernon Barker said: "We will sit back and take a view on that."