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26 March 2013, 12:12
Several rail companies have had their franchises extended after mistakes that led to the West Coast Main Line contract being cancelled.
First Capital Connect, London Midland, Virgin Trains, East Midlands and East Coast Trains are among the companies that will now get to run their respective rail lines for longer.
The process of awarding a huge contract to run trains on the West Coast Main Line through Milton Keynes and Watford Junction had to be abandoned in 2012 after errors by the Department for Transport.
First Group had been awarded the contract, but it then had to be handed back to Virgin Trains.
Under the new franchise timetable announced by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, a new West Coast franchise will not start until April 2017, with Virgin negotiating with the DfT over continuing until then.
London Midland's franchise has been extended until 2017. The First Capital Connect Thameslink/Great Northern/Southern franchise has been extended until September 2014. East Midlands Trains' franchise has been extended until 2017.
The government has also invited bids to run the East Coast Main Line, which the government has run since 2009 when the previous operator National Express handed the franchise back. The new franchise will start in 2015.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This programme is a major step in delivering tangible improvements to services, providing long-term certainty to the market and supporting our huge programme of rail investment. Above all, in future franchise competitions we are placing passengers in the driving seat by ensuring that their views and satisfaction levels are taken into account when deciding which companies run our railway services.
“Franchising has been a force for good in the story of Britain’s railways, transforming an industry that was in decline into one that today carries record numbers of passengers.”
Patrick Verwer, Managing Director of London Midland, said: “We welcome the announcement of the Government’s extension of our franchise to June 2017. This gives us the stability for the next four years to continue to improve our service, and focus on providing the reliable, consistent service our passengers expect and deserve. “
“We have seen a continuous period of improvement in our performance since December, and we will continue with our ongoing programme of driver recruitment and training. We will also continue to invest in our stations, and in new innovative technology such as our new 110 mph trains to London.”
First Capital Connect Managing Director Neal Lawson said: “Despite the challenges of operating an ageing fleet of trains, passenger satisfaction has improved during our time in charge of the franchise, some elements by up to 17%, despite carrying 14m more people a year.
“We have brought in extra trains and longer services to deliver 29% more seats at the busiest times of the day on the Thameslink route and 22% extra on the Great Northern.
“We have also shown we can manage complex projects such as the Thameslink Programme which will deliver more much-needed new capacity and route improvements and we will continue working closely on this with the DfT and our industry partners.”
Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup Chief Executive said: “The publication of the timetable setting out the return to rail franchising is an important development for the industry, enabling the private sector to continue to provide effective and efficient passenger rail services with further performance and infrastructure improvements. In particular, the extension of our First Capital Connect franchise provides continuity and consistency for our passengers and enables us to continue to deliver considerable improvements to services.
“As the UK’s largest and most experienced rail operator, we remain committed to maintaining a leading position in the market. We look forward to reviewing the details of the upcoming franchise competitions as they are announced, and submitting further high quality bids that deliver for passengers, taxpayers and shareholders.”
Sir David Higgins, Chief Executive of Network Rail, said: "Our goal is to work with the rest of the industry to provide a safer and more efficient railway which addresses the underlying issues of capacity and performance. The clarity provided in today's statement is welcome in helping us achieve that goal."