UK: The Department for Transport is considering directly awarding incumbent FirstGroup a five-year contract to operate the Great Western franchise, which covers passenger services linking London with southwest England and south Wales.

Plans to tender a new long-term Great Western franchise were put on hold following the collapse of the InterCity West Coast competition in October 2012. Instead, DfT exercised an option to extend the existing Great Western franchise by 28 weeks, and then directly awarded without competition a new short-term franchise running from October 2013 to September 2015. DfT had intended to negotiate a second short-term direct award contract to cover the period after this expires, enabling it to hold an open competition for a longer-term franchise of seven to 10 years which would start in July 2016.

However, DfT now says that a direct award with a duration of up to five years could offer better overall value and 'further facilitate the effective administration of a sustainable and well-resourced programme of franchise competitions'. DfT is to 'engage with the supply chain to explore the viability and any advantages to a longer direct award', which would start on September 20 2015 and run for 60 months.

The number of services operated would be similar to current levels, with a total of approximately 9 000 a week, but the new contract may include an alliance arrangement with infrastructure manager Network Rail.

Great Western franchise timeline

October 2 2012All refranchising put on hold following collapse of InterCity West Coast process.
March 2013Great Western franchise was due to expire; DfT exercises an option to extend the franchise by 28 weeks to October 2013.
October 3 2013DfT announces a new 23-month direct award franchise, with plans for a second direct award franchise to run from September 20 2015 to July 2016.
March 11 2014DfT begins consultation on a five-year direct award franchise.
September 20 2015First direct award franchise due to expire.
July 2016End date of the initially-proposed short-term second direct award franchise, which was to be replaced by a new competitively tendered franchise.
September 2020Proposed 60-month direct award franchise would end and be replaced by a competitively tendered franchise.