A 22 year franchise for FCC?

The confusion over franchising policy could not be better highlighted by the mixed messages coming from ministers. On the one hand we have quite explicit threats suggesting that the government could take back the First Capital Connect franchise because of months of dire performance on the Thameslink line – why did they ever change the name? – while on the other we have Lord Adonis suggesting that longer franchises are likely to be come the norm, with perhaps contracts stretching up to 22 years.

The FCC debacle seems to go on and on, partly because the difficulties stem from more than one source. First there was the fact that the roster can only be filled if the drivers work on their rest days, a hangover from BR days which should have been dealt with years ago. Then we had the poor weather which has knocked out a number of trains sets. However, by all accounts, these difficulties have been compounded by poor management and a lack of managerial nous.

This puts FirstGroup in the dock again following the terrible difficulties it got into over the Great Western franchise which the company has now sorted out at great expense. The FCC problem seems more fundamental and not one that could be solved simply by throwing money at it. However, the government is unlikely to remove a franchise from the country’s biggest operator – it is rather different than kicking National Express when it was already down for the count. So I doubt whether the government will have the guts to go for First, unless it is seen as a populist measure in the run-up to the election.

Meanwhile, with both Tories and Labour now committed to longer term franchises, doesn’t anone out there spot the contradictions?

  • Peter

    Sadly this looks like yet another political railway foul up, with no obvious way out in sight. The forthcoming election ought to have given the Tories a chance to offer a more attractive rail vision, but sadly it just looks as though they are going to serve up more of the same.

    No one should be too surprised if they – or rather we – end up with the same result: a high-cost, disfunctional railway, whose managers are permanently distracted by political manoeuvres.

    Sadly, things are actually even worse than they seem from outside, because so many of the supposedly ‘privatised’ industry’s endemic problems (eg disastrous lack of control of engineering costs, continual guerilla war between companies at all levels) are hidden from most outside observers, even ones as well qualified as Mr Wolmar.

  • RapidAssistant

    Well TOCs in the national psyche these days are held in the same regard as traffic wardens and tax collectors and therefore I agree it is pandering to populism to come down on them like a ton of bricks whenever people are complaining – particularly with an election just months away.

    But it has been interesting reading some of the reader comments on the FCC stories this last few days, and people are waking up to the reality that forcibly replacing a rail franchisee doesn’t necessarily improve anything when you consider that any new incumbent inherits the same staff, the same infrastructure and the same specification from the DfT.

    And there’s the rub – the problems can often be traced much further back to the overregulation and micromanagement on the part of the DfT on one hand, and the Treasury trying to squeeze the pips out of the operators on the other.

  • allan hedley

    I am so sick of hearing and reading about this political cock-up called “rail franchising”. Whichever party wins the election this industry I have been commited to for 20years is going to get no better. We need a properly ran, intergrated railway…. a nationalised railway, operated by a board of senior management who know the industry, and yes probably a BR board type system.

    Why can’t the politicians get it into their thick heads “franchising and privatisation is not working!, we don’t want it!..

  • Alan Francis

    There is one political party that would get rid of franchising and all the rest of the privatisation nonsense by taking the railways back into public ownership and re-integrating the fragmented railways into one coherent organisation. see


    from para TR200 onwards

    Alan Francis, Green Party Transport Speaker

  • G. Tingey

    You must remeber that Worst are based in Scotland, and, therefore, under Broon, can do no worng…
    Whether a Tory admin would really do anything about this collection of mean bus spivs, who are reminscent of the bus operators in the “Titfield Thunderbolt” is a another matter.

    Meanwhile, on two other planets:
    1 ] http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23801905-the-train-at-st-pancras-will-be-departing-for-germany-via-channel-tunnel.do
    Which can’t come soon enough for some of us …..

    2 ] The discussion over the Moreton-on-Lugg crossing collision (16/01/2010) has gone HORRIBLY QUIET.
    It would appear that: The signalman is back at work,
    RAIB are VERY tight-lipped about it, and – was the (presumed and putative) failure at the crossing specific to that one place, or, much more worrying a general fault, that has only just surfaced?
    Incidentally, is it true that RAIB are a bit short-handed at the moment?

  • RapidAssistant

    One story that’s escaped the national press today is the outcome of the RAIBs enquiry into the Kilmarnock bridge collapse this time last year when a freight train full of fuel derailed and caught fire – reported in today’s Glasgow Herald:


    Seems NR had been warned time and time again by bridge inspectors that there was severe corrosion in the bridge and didn’t do anything about it. This of course would have been headline news if it had caused a passenger train catastrophe – that it was a mere loss of a few freight wagons and a little helping of ecological pollution caused by the diesel spillage ensured that it was a mere footnote in a provincial newspaper – funny how the media quickly loses interest in certain things……