Great Western franchise delayed
Passengers hoping for improvements to rail services in Cornwall will face a longer wait after the new Great Western franchise was delayed until July 2016.
The frustrating hold-up comes in the fall-out from the West Coast franchise fiasco and is the latest in a series of delays to the Great Western deal – which includes inter-city rail services between the South West and London, as well as branch lines across the region.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw claimed rail users and tax payers are paying for Government “incompetence”.
Ministers originally wanted to offer a 15-year contract to run Great Western services beginning next month.
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But following the West Coast debacle, existing train operator First Great Western had its contract to run services extended until October this year.
Department for Transport (DfT) officials then began negotiations with the firm, begging the company to accept a new two-year contract – bringing the deal up until 2015.
Today’s announcement by the DfT adds almost another year to the wait.
It will raise questions over whether much-needed improvements, from getting wi-fi onboard to replacing 1970s trains and carriages, will materialise any time soon.
A spokesman for First Great Western confirmed the company has yet to agree with the Government to continue running services after October.
He said: “The deal is still to be hammered out. We are talking to the DfT about that agreement might practically look like.”
The protracted negotiations are embarrassing for the Government as First Great Western had exercised a break-clause to quit the deal three years early, saving a reported £800 million in payments.
A DfT spokesman insisted investment would not be delayed. He said: “The Great Western route is due to benefit from a massive investment programme between now and 2020.
“This will include electrification, line upgrades, station upgrades, new rolling stock and also the introduction of the Crossrail services.”
Nearly every planned new franchise date has been put back, ministers confirmed today.
Virgin Trains had lost out to rival transport company FirstGroup for a new West Coast franchise.
But, following the abandonment, Virgin and the DfT reached a deal to run the franchise until November 2014.
However, under a new franchise timetable announced by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin today, a new West Coast franchise will not start until April 2017, with Virgin negotiating with the DfT over continuing until then.