West Coast Continuation…

…but more wastage could lie ahead.

So, some common sense at the Department for Transport has prevailed, they have extended Virgin Trains’ contract to run the West Coast Main Line trains, following the failure of the recent franchise bid.

As the CEO of rail watchdog Passenger Focus points out, this is generally good for the confidence of the travelling public, who were still convinced that they couldn’t book tickets for journeys post-Virgin in confidence.

But, they’ve only extended it for another 9-12 months. That isn’t long enough for a new specification and full franchise bid to be run.

So, why the short-term extension? Mainly because of EU Competition Law. Apparently, other operators need to be given a fair crack. This means a “short-term” WCML franchise will likely exist, which will run for around 2 to 3 years, while a new competition for the long term franchise is held.

There are legitimate concerns that the short term franchise will be financially unattractive, which implies it will require some sort of subsidy sweetener, some propping up by the taxpayer. It’s also not good for strategic development, as it favours short-term decision making, rather than a long-term vision. There’s also concerns such as uncertain futures for the employees.

How is this ridiculous short-term franchise beneficial for the passenger, the rail industry, and the taxpayer? We may as well go back to steam power and put shovelfuls of £50 notes in the fire. Thanks a lot, Brussels.