THIS MONTH should see publication of a strategic plan for Britain’s national rail network. The Strategic Rail Authority - which is finally dropping its ’shadow’ status following the passing of the Transport Act on November 29 - has substantially redrafted the plan to take account of the post-Hatfield crisis. Part of the plan will address issues arising directly from the crisis that have the potential to affect the industry in the short and medium term, and part will examine the long-term future of the industry.

SRA will initially issue a draft for comments, with the final version expected later in the year. The plan will not be prescriptive, reflecting SRA’s position that it exists to shape the industry rather than direct it. Whilst the industry is reluctant to embark on another round of major restructuring, opportunities to simplify what is now in place would be welcomed.

Looking beyond the 10-year timescale of the Labour government’s £49bn investment programme (RG 9.00 p541), the plan will address issues such as a north-south high-speed line that may emerge from proposals developed by Virgin in its original bid for the replacement InterCity East Coast franchise.

SRA is still pushing ahead with franchise replacement, and the winner of the ICEC race is expected to be announced shortly. Following the selection of M40 Trains for a new Chiltern Railways contract, SNCF-backed Govia was chosen to succeed Vivendi’s Connex on the South Central commuter network. GNER, Stagecoach and a consortium of FirstGroup with Netherlands Railways have been shortlisted for South West Trains, and submitted their final offers in December. FirstGroup has also been shortlisted with Via GTI for the Trans-Pennine Express franchise, against Arriva, Connex and Serco. SRA has qualified two bidders for Central Trains, nine for Thameslink and eight for Wales & Borders. Prequalification bids for Wessex Rail were invited last month, although the final shape of the business is still open to negotiation.

  • The transfer of Netherlands Railways’ infrastructure management units Railned, Railinfrabeheer and Verkeersleiding to the Ministry of Transport, due to take place on January 1, was postponed following criticism of the government’s rail policy by members of Parliament in November. Implementation of the planned 10-year contract for NS was also postponed.