THE franchise crisis appears to be deepening, with reports that c2c is the latest operator to slip into the red.
Trenitalia is said to have accrued debts of £20 million after forecasts of growth during last year proved to be too optimistic.
The Italian operator is now in talks with the Department for Transport, according to industry sources, which also claim that the DfT’s ‘Operator of Last Resort’ is on the alert.
The DfT never comments about financial discussions with its contractors, but it has always maintained a firm stance and has declined to vary franchise terms in the past. The Sunday Telegraph says that Trenitalia executives are ‘angered by rigid contractual restrictions’ that do not reflect changes in commuter travel.
The RMT has accused Trenitalia of ‘trying to force the British people into a £20 million taxpayer bail out’.
The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘The crisis on Britain's privatised railways is deepening by the day. The Tories have been forced to strip Arriva of the Northern franchise, South Western Railway is on financial life support and likely to be the next to fall and now Trenitalia have taken c2c to the brink. This madness cannot be allowed to continue.
‘With the publication of the Williams Report repeatedly delayed we can smell panic right at the heart of Government as even hard-line Tories start to realise that the only solution that can keep trains running is to bring these basket-case franchises into public ownership.’
c2c has already come under fire this year from an Essex MP, who has protested about falling standards. Sir David Amess, who represents Southend West, has written to the Department of Transport about various problems, and says his campaign will be stepped up until the situation improves.
He told the Essex-based Echo newspaper: ‘I have seen the service deteriorate, as both a user myself and from constituents who have told me about their own experiences.
‘The timetabling was a complete fiasco, the cost of travel has steadily risen whilst customer satisfaction has declined. The card reader machines are farcical, taking forever to complete a transaction, while the so-called ticket machines which have been installed are not fit for purpose. Their instructions are incomprehensible, they are horrendous to operate and they are badly positioned.
‘I intend to escalate my battle with Trenitalia/c2c to restore the once good service.’
c2c replied to Sir David’s criticisms by saying: ‘We continue to thank our customers for their ongoing patience. We are investing in new modern ticket-buying facilities to replace the old, out-dated technology that had been in use, but we do appreciate the roll-out of the new system has caused some frustrations.’
Trenitalia bought c2c from National Express in early 2017, not long after a new contract had been awarded which runs until 2029. The Italian operator also has a 30 per cent stake in Avanti West Coast, which began in December.
Trenitalia has previously backed away from two franchise competitions while they were in progress. A consortium of FirstGroup and Trenitalia withdrew from East Midlands on 23 April 2018, while Trenitalia had already withdrawn from South Eastern on 10 August 2017. This competition was later cancelled by the DfT in August 2019, and talks have been taking place with the current Southeastern operator Govia over a further extension of the contract beyond 1 April this year.
Trenitalia told Railnews: ‘We do not comment on press speculation.’