c2c coronavirus wear a face covering sign at West Ham

UK: The Department for Transport has exercised its option to extend the Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements with c2c, South Western Railway and TransPennine Express, as discussions continue over the ending of franchise agreements and a move to directly-awarded National Rail Contracts.

FirstGroup, which operates the South Western and TransPennine franchises, told Rail Business UK that DfT had exercised its option to extend the ERMAs from their previous end date of April 1 until the end of May.

In early February it was reported that DfT was keen to conclude discussions with the three companies, which had been designated ‘Tier One’ franchises in acknowledgement of their status as being in the most difficult financial positions.

It had been hoped that their futures would have been resolved in time for a move to NRCs from April 1.

FirstGroup said it was ‘working constructively’ with DfT to conclude negotiations for the new contracts. Industry insiders suggest the move to NRCs is now the biggest challenge, rather than the franchise termination sums.

Indications are that DfT has focused heavily on how it wishes to see the railway operating and structured in five years’ time, rather than deciding what is needed to keep services running in the short term, and this uncertainty is underpinning reluctance by owning groups to sign new contracts.