It’s a hoary old cliché, I know, but having initially received a green light for the fast line, the West Coast Main Line franchise bid contest now looks to be shuddering to a halt at a signal somewhere outside Nuneaton. The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that transport minister Philip Hammond wants a delay in order to incorporate reforms from the forthcoming McNulty report into cost-savings on the national rail network. As a result, the planned franchise start date of April 2012 now looks to be pushed back to January 2013 instead. But what will happen for the intervening nine months?
The Financial Times suggested today that the rail services may come back into public ownership in the interim, in similar fashion to how the East Coast line is operated by Directly Operated Railways (a Limited Company owned by the Department for Transport) since the termination of the previous National Express Group franchise. Interestingly, the four shortlisted bidders include two other state-owned companies: Abellio, the international division of the Dutch state railway who is a partner in the current Northern rail franchise; and a joint bid by SNCF – the French state railway – and Keolis, who are part-owned by SNCF and partners in the Transpennine Express franchise. FirstGroup are the other partners in that franchise, and they too have made the shortlist on their own merit. (They’re possibly better known in these parts for running buses in the northern half of the county.) Current franchise holder Virgin completes the line-up. The Observer reports that the shortlist is likely to remain the same but that the bidders will have to spend more on the process as a result of the delay.
Although there seems to be no love lost between Virgin and the DfT, there has been a small outbreak of common sense with news that one of the new Pendolino trainsets intended for the new franchise will enter service with the existing franchise this summer. The extra train set will be deployed on Birmingham to Scotland via Wigan services, displacing the existing 5-car diesel train to bolster North Wales services. Although delivered as an 11-car set, the new Pendolino will initially operate with only 9-cars as platforms are still being lengthened and staff training has not yet taken place.
[Image credit: “Coventry Station” by Roger Marks on Flickr]