Rail franchising plan announced

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A rail franchising programme to cover the next few years was announced today by the Government.

The plans will mean the East Coast line, currently being run in the public sector, not having a new, private-sector franchisee until December 2013.

When the Department for Transport took over East Coast from the National Express transport company in 2009, the intention was to have the London to Scotland line back in private ownership by this year.

East Coast has, of late, consistently been the poorest-performing train company in terms of punctuality, although many of the major delays have been outside the control of the company.

Announced by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond today, the franchise plans will mean:

:: The new Inter City West Coast franchise will commence in December 2012;

:: A new Great Western franchise will start in April 2013 rather than 2016 as originally planned;

:: The new Inter City East Coast franchise will commence in December 2013;

:: The new 15-year Essex Thameside franchise will start in May 2013, with the South Eastern franchise beginning in April 2014;

:: The start of a new Thameslink franchise will be brought forward to September 2013. This franchise is likely to be shorter than 15 years, with a focus on managing services through the major Thameslink infrastructure upgrade. It would then be re-let at the end of the project;

:: A 15-year Greater Anglia franchise will start in July 2014;

:: The current First TransPennine franchise is being extended, with the extension incorporating the flexibility to terminate the franchise between April 2014 and March 2015;

:: This flexibility could allow the start dates for the new Northern and TransPennine franchises to be aligned in April 2014.

Mr Hammond said: "I have already been clear that not all of these franchises will look the same. I believe in horses for courses and a pragmatic, not dogmatic, approach. I will be guided by what drives value for the taxpayer and service for the passenger on each individual franchise.

"Some commentators have suggested this represents a huge programme of work and a major culture shift in Government. I agree with them. It is arguably the biggest programme of franchising since the industry was originally privatised. But it is also a major programme - and a significant culture shift - for bidders. There should be no doubt about our determination to deliver on this agenda, nor the importance of managing it properly."