UK: Following the publication of Eurostar Chairman Richard Brown's independent review of the Department for Transport's franchising programme earlier in the month, on January 31 the government announced its plans to restart three passenger franchise tendering competitions.
These were put on hold in October 2012 after 'significant errors' led to the collapse of the Inter-City West Coast refranchising process.
Essex Thameside: DfT is to commence negotiations for an interim contract of up to two years with National Express, which currently operates the franchise under the c2c brand. A revised invitation to tender for a 15-year franchise is to be issued to existing shortlisted bidders in 'summer' 2013.
Great Western: DfT has exercised an option to extend FirstGroup's current franchise by 28 weeks from March 31 to October 2013, and negotiations will commence for an additional two-year contract. The current refranchising competition will be terminated 'to allow for a more fundamental review of the franchise proposition', and bidders' costs will not be reimbursed. DfT will set out longer-term proposals for the franchise 'in the spring'. This franchise will be complicated by the extensive programme of route modernisation and electrification.
Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern: DfT intends to exercise a 28-week extension option in FirstGroup's existing Thameslink/Great Northern franchise, which is operated under the First Capital Connect brand and currently ends on September 14 2013. Negotiations will commence for a further contract of up to two years. The refranchising competition will be resumed, with DfT planning to award a seven-year 'management-style contract' focusing on service delivery during the Thameslink Programme upgrading works.
Directly Operated Railways: In parallel with negotiations with existing operators to continue running their services, DfT's in-house operator of last resort DOR will undertake 'minimum necessary preparations to take over services in case terms cannot be agreed' with the incumbent franchisees.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the plans 'mark an important step on the way to restarting the franchising programme, and while I am determined this should happen as quickly as possible we do need time to get this right. We have had to take some tough decisions regarding franchising, and while they may provide a challenge in the short term, I believe the lessons we have learnt will help deliver a more robust system in the future benefitting fare payers and taxpayers alike.'