Bath faces train deal delay after West Coast Main Line debacle
A DEAL to run train services between Bath and London could be delayed by two years in the wake of the West Coast Main Line debacle, it has been warned.
Amid the uncertainty sparked by the Whitehall franchise fiasco, campaigners argue “all bets are off” on the timing of the new contract for the Great Western route, which is due to start next year.
It comes as rail operator Virgin has been asked to continue running the troubled West Coast line on a temporary basis following the embarrassing U-turn by the Department for Transport.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was forced to pull the plug on the controversial West Coast deal earlier this month when “significant technical flaws” were found in the way the franchise process had been conducted.
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In addition to launching a probe into what went wrong with the contract, there will be a review of the wider rail franchise programme.
This will mean putting on ice bidding for the new 15-year Great Western contract which is due to start next year.
The review is not due to report back until the end of December. But bids for the Great Western contract had been expected to be received this month with a new operator announced in March 2013.
The already delayed franchise was due to start in July, 2013.
But Chris Irwin, chairman of TravelWatch SouthWest, predicts it faces a long delay, impacting on future investment.
He said: “All bets on timing are off. It could be two years rather than July 2013. There’s no certainty.”
Virgin has run the West Coast line since 1997 but in August the DfT announced that a new 13-year franchise for the London to Scotland line had been awarded not to Virgin but to rival transport company FirstGroup.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson launched a legal challenge to the decision, describing the bidding process as ‘insane’.
It was while getting itself ready to fight the legal challenge that the DfT discovered the flaws in the bidding.
FirstGroup said: “We believe the private sector provides the most effective and efficient way to deliver passenger rail services in the UK.
“We await the outcome of the independent investigations into the West Coast franchise competition and the wider rail franchising process, which we hope will provide a greater degree of certainty and confidence not only to future bidders but to employees, stakeholders and the travelling public too.”