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South Eastern rail franchise competition cancelled

The recommendations of the Williams Review are due to be published in the autumn.

The South Eastern rail franchise competition has been cancelled (Gareth Fuller/PA)
The South Eastern rail franchise competition has been cancelled (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The competition for the next South Eastern rail franchise has been scrapped, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced.

Incumbent operator Southeastern’s contract to run trains on the route – which stretches from south London to Kent and East Sussex – was due to expire in November, but this has been extended until April 1 next year.

The franchise competition was cancelled amid concerns that it would not deliver enough passenger benefits, and to ensure that the recommendations of the government-commissioned Williams Review – due to be published in the autumn – are taken into account.

The DfT also faces legal action over its decision to disqualify Stagecoach from bidding for franchises, including the South Eastern contract, due to a row over pensions.

We're disappointed that our original bid is not being taken forward David Brown, Go-Ahead

A DfT spokesman said: “We have taken the decision to cancel the South Eastern franchise competition.

“This follows significant concerns that continuing the competition process would lead to additional costs incurred to the taxpayer, with no certainty that this would deliver envisaged benefits for passengers in a timely fashion.

“The Department will use this period to develop a solution that delivers the capacity and performance benefits that passengers are expecting, and ensure that the recommendations of the Williams Review can be implemented.”

Southeastern has operated services on the route since April 2006. This was initially under an eight-year franchise, but it has continued to run trains due to several extensions.

The competition for the next company to run the franchise was launched in November 2017.

In April, Stagecoach was disqualified from bidding for three franchises – including the South Eastern contract – due to a row over pensions.

The remaining shortlisted bidders were Govia – a joint venture between Go-Ahead and Keolis, which owns the Southeastern brand – and a partnership featuring Abellio, East Japan Railway and Mitsui and Co.

Go-Ahead chief executive David Brown said: “A lot of hard work was put into a strong bid that would have built upon the achievements of Southeastern in recent years in improving performance and customer satisfaction, delivering more capacity and investment.

“Whilst we’re disappointed that our original bid is not being taken forward, we will engage with the DfT on next steps.”

Southeastern managing director David Statham said: “We’re proud to have delivered more than £80 million of improvements for passengers since we began a new Direct Award contract in 2014.

“Punctuality has improved by nearly 10% in two years, we’ve introduced free wi-fi on our trains, and boosted capacity on board with 5,000 extra seats.

“Over this next extension period, our focus remains squarely on our passengers, delivering more improvements and continuing to improve the punctuality and reliability of our services.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “The cancellation of the competition for the Southeastern franchise shows yet again that the whole privatised rail system is broken and coming apart at the seams.

“The chaos of short-term extensions to get the Government off the hook is a measure of just how rotten their rail policies are.

“You cannot run a serious and reliable rail service on the hoof and yet that is what the Government are doing and passengers paying a small fortune to travel on the Southeastern services will be rightly outraged.

“The only viable alternative to this nonsense is public ownership and that is exactly the model that the Williams Review has explicitly ruled out.”

PA

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