Last week we had the latest rail franchise announcements. First Group has taken the new TransPennine Express (not sure why a regional train operator deserves the ‘Express’ tag though). The Northern franchise goes to Arriva (or actually DB German State Railways) – no need to expensive brand activity here, they could call it Arriva Trains Northern! Heading into East Anglia, there has been a parting Abellio and Stagecoach. The two had been shortlisted to bid for the franchise on offer but it appears they had fallen out after failing to agree. Now Abellio will go it alone. Such changes in organisations between shortlisting and bid submission is not unknown – DB were part of a Virgin Rail Group consortium for one of its East Coast Bids but pulled out of the partnership and in another Virgin East Coast bid a small percentage of the consortium went to a group of GNER managers.
Whilst on the subject of Virgin, without any real announcement from the Department for Transport or from Virgin the contract to operate the West Coast franchise has been extended through until March 2018. Virgin initially had the franchise until March 2015 with an option for a further 12 months. In July this year the franchise was extended by six months to expire in September 2017. This was half of the possible 12 month extension option. Last month the further six months of the option were added giving a March 2018 expiry. In effect the 12 month option has been exercised but in two six month periods – an expensive way of doing things as I assume the franchise agreement has had to be re-written twice with the resultant legal costs for both DfT and Virgin.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.