Censored: Proposals for race to run train services between Bath and London
Proposals about a contest to run train services between Bath and London stalled in the wake of the West Coast Main Line debacle have been censored by the Government.
Ministers cited commercial reasons for refusing to publish specific recommendations about the Great Western and two other ‘paused’ rail competitions made in a Whitehall-commissioned independent inquiry into franchising.
A section of the report by Eurostar chief Richard Brown has been “temporarily redacted” as they were “potentially market sensitive”.
A government decision on the delayed franchises is now due next month.
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Letting the 15-year Great Western franchise was at an advanced stage, with bids due to be submitted in October, and a new operator announced in March 2013. The already delayed deal was due to start in July, 2013.
There were four shortlisted bidders for the contract - FirstGroup; Arriva Trains; National Express; and Stagecoach.
But the contract was put on hold when the Government was forced to pull the plug on the controversial West Coast deal, after “significant technical flaws” were found in the way the franchise process had been conducted.
It led to two independent inquiries being set up – one into what went wrong with the contract which was highly critical of some transport officials’ handling of the West Coast bid, and the second into the wider rail franchise programme.
In his report Mr Brown found the franchising system was not ‘broken’, but said the Department for Transport must look at strengthening its franchising capability as a “top priority”.
In his report, he Brown said: “Significant errors were made by the department (DfT) during the (West Coast) competition, which not only caused the cancellation of that franchise award at considerable public expense but also called into question the remaining franchising programme and the department's ability to conduct it.”
He added: “Passengers cannot wait whilst theoretical discussions are held about the structure of railways. It is essential to get on with the franchising programme in order to maintain the momentum of investment in increasing capacity and improving services.”
In a ministerial statement, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The review recommends that the government should determine, by February, our plans for the three franchise competitions which I put on hold last October.”
He accepted this and said he would update MPs when a decision had been taken.
He added: “Until then, however, I consider that it would be inappropriate to publish Mr Brown’s specific recommendations about these three franchise competitions because of their stock market sensitivity, and so I have redacted the relevant paragraphs from the version of the report I have published today.
“I will publish the redacted paragraphs once I have decided the way forward for those three competitions.”