Letter: Off the rails

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your leading article of 12 February called for one of the train companies to lose its franchise. This ignores the legally binding nature of the contracts under which the companies operate.

My enforcement powers are strictly limited under the Railways Act and I can only terminate a franchise if an operator defaults on its contract. I cannot fine a company retrospectively for poor performance. What I can do is issue a provisional order threatening a financial penalty, payable only if the service does not improve. Or, where I am satisfied that the breach has been remedied, I can take the route I have taken recently and negotiate a package of compensatory benefits for passengers.

Renegotiation of performance targets and penalties is one area on which the Government may wish to issue guidance to the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority. They may also wish to consider strengthening the enforcement powers in the forthcoming legislation. Meanwhile, I will continue to use my existing enforcement powers to the full.

JOHN O'BRIEN

Director of Passenger Rail Franchising

London SE1

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