Bids sought for new rail franchises
The Government has issued invitations to tender for the Essex Thameside franchise and for the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise (TSGN).
These are the first two invitations under the new rail franchising schedule that had to be drawn up after the whole franchising programme was thrown into disarray by the West Coast fiasco last year.
Because of faults with the bidding process, the Department for Transport was forced to scrap the new West Coast franchise award in a move that has cost taxpayers at least £50 million.
Two reviews, one specifically into the West Coast process and the other into franchising generally led by Eurostar boss Richard Brown, were set up.
It is anticipated the successful bids for the two new franchises will be announced in May next year.
The Essex Thameside contract will begin in September 2014 and run for 15 years.
The Thameslink and Great Northern elements of the TSGN franchise will start in September 2014 with the Southern element being phased in by July 2015. The franchise will run for seven years.
Rail Minister Simon Burns said: "Rail franchising has been a force for good on our railways and the department has been working hard to roll out its new franchising schedule.
"These are the first invitations to tender to be issued since the independent Brown review into rail franchising, which endorsed the Government's approach to the railways.
"We are now looking for innovative bids that provide value for money for taxpayers and put passengers right back at the heart of our railways."
Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers will be pleased to hear that the process is back on track. They will feel the impact of these franchise decisions for years to come, so we welcome the news that passenger satisfaction will be measured as part of the contracts.
"The best judge of a service must always be those who use it and as one of the main funders of the railway. It is crucial that passengers' needs and expectations are at the heart of what government buys on their behalf. We will now be looking closely at the rest of the detail."
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said: "Despite the multi-million pound chaos of the West Coast franchising shambles, the Government are back at it, offering two new gold-plated franchises to the same bunch of companies who have robbed the railways and the travelling public in broad daylight for the past two decades.
"The cheaper and more efficient route of public ownership has been ruled out with Directly Operated Railways, who run the East Coast mainline in the public interest, denied the right to bid for these two franchises.
"The Government might think privatisation is a 'force for good' but for the British people it means paying the highest fares to travel on some of the worst services in Europe while the train operators are laughing all the way to the bank."