A longer wait for rail investment


Simon Burns said what everyone else in the room was probably thinking: "It's a mess, its unacceptable and it should never happen again."

The minister for railways was giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee about the plans to offer new rail franchises, most of which have had to be put on hold following the shambles over the West Coast mainline.

Why does it matter? Because the new rail franchises are going to run for between seven and 15 years. Long enough for the new operators to put in investment and improve facilities and services for travellers.

But last month, the government announced that nearly every new rail franchise in the region will start late: c2c Thameside in Essex and Thameslink, which should have new franchises this summer will have to wait until next year. The new Greater Anglia franchise, originally due to start in 2014, won't start until October 2016 while the West Coast mainline won't be renewed until 2017.

It was all put on hold after it emerged there were flaws in the tendering process for the West Coast mainline. Now that the problem has been resolved, why the delay?

Start Quote

We don't want to overload the market”

End Quote Simon Burns MP (Con) Rail Minister

"We don't want to overload the market," explained Mr Burns, MP for Chelmsford. "To allow proper competition we can only put out three or four a year for tender."

But one line is still running to time: the East coast mainline which runs through Peterborough and Stevenage, will be re-privatised with a new franchise that will start in 2015.

'Infusion of innovation'

This has raised some eyebrows among Labour MPs, who pointed out to Mr Burns the line was running perfectly well in state controlled hands.

In the last three years it's made £650m for the taxpayer. Why prioritise that line over the West Coast mainline, wondered committee member Lucy Powell.

"It's performed reasonably well," said Mr Burns."However, the service has plateaued. What it needs is an infusion of innovation which only the private sector can do." The line had recently come bottom for punctuality. What was needed he said was some "imaginative investment".

The West Coast mainline, he said, was continuing to improve and he was confident that Virgin could "build and sustain" the service.

Of greater concern though was London Midland, which has had a number of reliability problems.

"I am keeping a close eye on them as a result of those problems which I consider unacceptable," he said.

With the West Coast problems behind him, Mr Burns hopes his new timetable for franchises will provide reassurance for the industry and long-term investment for the passenger.

It may well do - but most of us will have to wait a little bit longer.

Deborah McGurran Article written by Deborah McGurran Deborah McGurran Political editor, East of England

Norwich to London rail line 'needs £400m'

New money for the Norwich to London rail line is one of a number of infrastructure schemes the government has been asked to look at.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    So the ECML made a profit, even if it does go into Government coffers, it is still a larger amount that a fiddled tax return from a private company.
    If they got their act together it could be reinvested in the same line, now there's a novel approach.
    Franchising this is just a gravy train for cosy business pals bankers.
    Neither party is capable of learning anything, complete buffoons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    What nonsense this all is..hopefully all theae franchise awards can be delayed long enough to kick this Govt out.
    Privatisation of the system just means a third party viz the railway operator has its finger in the pie costing the user/ traveller much more money. Makes no sense at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This is John Major's great legacy.
    Poor service, cramped trains and high prices.
    All the money that went to the lawyers and management consultants should have gone into the rollong stock. The results has been the demise of the railway manufacturing industry in the UK - trains are now bought from Japan, Italy and elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The only thing franchise holders invest in is accountants to prepare their bids. Rail investment is underwritten by the government and paid for by the long suffering passengers through increased fares. These companies take no risk and make no commitment, if things go wrong they walk away. Free enterprise? Don't make me laugh. These businesses are private monopolies guaranteed by the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    So the East Coast Main line makes money for the government but that doesn't matter. It's nationalised so it can't be allowed to succeed and it has to be privatised as soon as possible otherwise people might get the wrong idea and think nationalisation actually works. Railway privatisation is a dogs breakfast, an unworkable system and the sooner it is reversed the better.


Comments 5 of 11



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.