Franchise fiasco deepens

The Department for Transport bombarded me with several copies of the press release on franchising but that did not make its contents any more coherent.Essentially, apart from speeding up the process on the successful publicly owned East Coast, the whole franchise programme has been delayed, with temporary extensions to most franchises.  The most extraordinary bit about this abject failure is the statement that ‘ in order to roll out the programme and stagger future competitions, it will be necessary to exercise a number of contractual extensions with current operators and to negotiate a series of direct awards with current operators’. So much for competition. While in theory Directly Operated Railways will be hanging about in the wings, the private companies have the Department over a barrel.  I somewhat suspect that they will be so pleased with this announcement that they will quietly drop the legal bid to get their money back on the failed franchise bids – having their tummy tickled will surely put them in a better mood.

Remember Roger Salmon, the first franchising director – he was castigated for delaying the start of the process, and yet he managed to let the whole railway from scratch in just 18 months.  That is why today’s announcement is such a clear indictment of the system. It has become too complex, impossible to manage and the only answer is to scrap the whole thing, let the franchises lapse and bring the lot in-house into a coherent railway.

Of course, announcing the Search and Rescue privatisation, with the prospect of Prince William being out of a job, has grabbed the headlines, so this announcement has attracted little attention. Attention now must turn to Labour – will the party have the courage now to call time on this fiasco or will it retain its obsession with the free market and neoliberal ideology.


  • Concessions, as a middle way?
    Letting SE extend, of course, is Camoron spiting Boris & to hell with the rest of us!

  • Paul

    What was going on at DfT ? DfT were supposed to be dictating strategy for the railway, but were letting Network Rail laud it about. One of the ‘senior’ Network Rail people left them, went to Australia, soon after was at DfT rail, recently was ‘displaced’ ? How can things improve /

  • Peter

    I was especially depressed to see that the increasingly poor “plain vanilla” SWT franchise is extended by over two years. Ten years was already too long for a franchise which basically had to do nothing apart from save loads of money. Two more years of Stagecoach raking it in while not having any commitment to improving the passengers’ lot is not exactly something to loom forward to.

    Having said that, I suppose retaining the same operator throughout the CP5 period while Waterloo is rebuilt (allegedly) makes some sense.

  • It might be worth looking at the Beeching Report maps at the bacK of the document again. The old slash and burn merchant seemed to favour the East Coast main line for his primary route up north. He might have hit on something, if the weather has changed as the Daily Express suggested today (probably lifted from my blogs last week. Simply the East coast seems to have better weather with the West coast catching all the deep snow drifts, HST’s with snow ploughs strapped to the front will make a nonsense of the high speed rail project, Much better to scrap the whole London Birmingham deal and upgrade the east coast to HST It’ll never happen of course, far too simple for the current bunch at Westminster …

  • Fandroid

    East Coast is sacrificed because otherwise they would have nothing else to let in 2015.

    In the press release, Richard Brown looks forward to the ‘urgent task of developing closer partnerships with Network Rail’. I hope he is watching the SW Trains Alliance, because it is not running smoothly. There have been a higher than usual number of serious disruptions since the New Year, mostly down to infrastructure, and SW Trains has issued a leaflet explaining what they are doing to sort it out. That’s full of stuff about working together to respond rapidly to problems, and they may be managing that OK. Tim Shoveller may be a good operator, but I suspect the lack of a big Network Rail beast in the alliance has meant that attention has drifted away from the boring day-to-day task of keeping on top of the assets, and rapid response is not much flaming good if the basics are getting worse.

  • christianwolmar

    Yes, I have heard the Alliance is not going well, too. Any further thoughts on why?

  • Peter

    As an SWT commuter I can certainly vouch that all is not well. Given that the set-up of today’s railway effectively runs on a blame culture between TOCs and NR I wonder if close working such as the “alliance” is really suitable, or whether SWT and NR spend time covering for each other rather than challenging each other and getting to the heart of issues.

    Whatever the reason, it doesn’t look good for Tim Shoveller, who staked his reputation on this mess. Meanwhile, the Stagecoach spin machine carries on telling us how wonderful the alliance is.

  • RapidAssistant

    As I said on the other thread – the leftie conspiracy theorist in me says that EC is being fast tracked for purely vindictive, ideological reasons, by Tory ministers that look increasingly likely to be out of a job after May 2015….but I may be wrong!