A debate in Parliament on Southeastern services yesterday saw the DfT’s representative Andrew Jones again refuse to give a firm answer on when the next franchise will be awarded.
The franchise has been extended a number of times with investment deferred. The latest extension ends on 22nd June and new franchises normally require at least three months notice to prepare for takeovers. That doesn’t leave much time.
The process has seen issues such as no bids being deemed compliant and all bidders having major issues. Some have speculated a decision on extension will be slipped out around the expected time of Brexit.
Even if not, any decision could be very controversial so burying an announcement may be politically expedient. Of the three bidders all have had issues in recent times.
One is the unpopular incumbent GoVia who were also behind the Thameslink shambles. One is Stagecoach who handed back Virgin East Coast (Virgin only owned 10% of the joint partnership – mainly for branding purposes) and the last is Abellio who are currently seeking compensation from the DfT (according to some media reports) due to getting the numbers wrong on their Greater Anglia franchise.
In addition a report last week was heavily critical of the current franchising proposal.
In London at least some of the mess and lack of investment could have been avoided if Chris Grayling hadn’t turned his back on an agreement to devolve services to TfL made by his predecessor – alongside a properly funded TfL.
The delay in awarding a franchise for many years could see carriage shortages from the end of this year as some trains are not compatible with forthcoming disability legislation. That would require trains moved from mainline work to branch lines.
The debate also covered other areas. Kent MPs asked why fares from their county were more expensive than equivalents in other counties mile-for-mile. Much of that is due to Labour’s 2006 franchise award which stipulated RPI+3% annual fare increases.
Disappointingly London MPs didn’t raise the same issue within London with those north of Thames using TfL (and some private franchises such as c2c) paying cheaper TfL fare rates instead of national rail.
Imagine if bus users south of the Thames paid 50p or more more per journey. They’d be much shouting about unfairness. On the trains though and that difference with identical zone to zone journeys is not mentioned.
The minister mentioned some forthcoming improvements but little specific to SE but general nationwide policies such as Delay Repay reducing to 15 minutes and more wifi services on trains.