High Court rules in favour of FirstGroup

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The Independent Online

FirstGroup yesterday won the opening round of its legal battle with the Strategic Rail Authority to be re-admitted to the shortlist of bidders for the Greater Anglia train franchise.

The High Court ruled that the bus and rail group should be allowed to see the "scores" which led to three rival train operators being shortlisted by the SRA at the expense of FirstGroup.

FirstGroup, the incumbent operator on a large part of the network covered by the new Greater Anglia franchise, believes that the information could help support its argument that its exclusion from the shortlist was "irrational, unlawful and unfair". The company's application for a full judicial review into the SRA's ruling is due to be heard in mid-July.

The SRA's decision two months ago to exclude FirstGroup caused a furore with Moir Lockhead, the company's chief executive, expressing his "astonishment" at the decision. The SRA's chairman Richard Bowker responded in equally robust terms, authorising his spokesman to criticise FirstGroup for putting in a "second rate" submission and then looking around for someone to blame.

The decision led to a campaign by FirstGroup, which included urging passengers on its First Great Eastern service to write letters of complaint to Mr Bowker. The Greater Anglia franchise is due to be let next year. The three shortlisted bidders are National Express, GB Railways and Arriva.