GWR could be split in rail franchise shake up – but confusion for Cornwall as Tories contradict each other over what it means

Confusion tonight as to what Rail Franchise means for Cornwall after Tories contradict each other

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There’s a bit of confusion tonight surrounding the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s (29 November 2017) announcement to set out a new vision for our railways, which includes plans to end the operational divide between track and train and an evolution of the franchising system.

This morning we thought that could also mean that GWR gets split up and we could have a smaller franchise covering Cornwall and Devon and others operating the Intercity rail services, including the sleeper.

That’s what Sarah Newton said in her statement earlier today however Chris Grayling seemed to rule it out this afternoon when questioned by Steve Double in Parliament. The Transport Secretary said he did not envisage a Devon & Cornwall Railway franchise but rather back to an area the on Wessex Trains used to run.

 

 

The Strategic vision for rail also commits to explore opportunities to restore capacity lost under the Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s which could mean opening an alternative route to the Dawlish line through Devon.

A consultation has been launched on the future of the Great Western franchise, including the proposal to create a new ‘West of England’ franchise that would provide long-distance services between London, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall (including the Sleeper) together with regional and local services across the ”south-west”.

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To provide a period of stability before the franchise is next competed, the department will be asking FirstGroup (GWR), the current operator, for a proposal to continue operating the franchise until 2022.

The DfT has announced it will exercise its option to extend the current Great Western Franchise for a year to April 2020, and that it intends to negotiate a further direct award for the GWR franchise for a duration of two years to April 2022, with an option to extend this for up to a further two years at the DfT’s discretion.

This is when it expects the completion of the lion’s share of planned improvements across the network to offer a more commercially viable option for potential franchise bidders.

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Commenting on the consultation to extend GWRs operation of the Great Western beyond April 2020 a GWR spokesperson said:

“We have built a strong reputation at GWR for working closely with our rail industry partners to deliver for our customers and the taxpayer, and the DfT’s confirmation today that it intends to extend the franchise and negotiate a further direct award lasting at least two years is a further vote of confidence.

“A period of detailed negotiation will now follow, but this opportunity will create further stability on the Great Western route as our experienced team continue their work with our partners to transform a key part of the country’s transport infrastructure”.

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And on the future shape of the Great Western franchise, a GWR spokesperson said:

“With significant potential growth anticipated on the future and, with further potential new services proposed to grow the business further, it is likely GWR would become the biggest rail franchise in the UK. In this context, we understand the DfT’s desire to explore changes to the shape of the franchise.

“At this stage, this is simply an option the DfT is exploring with stakeholders and no decisions have been taken, and even if a decision is taken to take the proposals forward, it would not actually take place until 2022 at the earliest.”

Sarah Newton & Chris Grayling

Sarah Newton MP for Truro & Falmouth said earlier today

“I welcome the Department for Transport announcement today of a 1 year extension to the current Great Western franchise. This means that GWR will continue to operate trains until at least March 2020 – this is good for Cornwall as it allows more time for us to get the best out of the new Intercity Express Trains, increased number of trains between Penzance and Plymouth, upgraded sleeper and improvements at Penzance, St Erth & Truro Stations.

Alongside this the department has opened a consultation on a new franchise and reopening closed railway stations and halts. The consultation period will close at the end of February.

This will include the possibility of splitting the current franchise in order to increase the competition between potential train operators to run future franchises. This could see a smaller franchise covering Cornwall and Devon and Intercity rail services

The new franchise needs to ensure railway services continue to improve and must focus on the needs of passengers and businesses in Cornwall and the wider South West.

I will be working closely with Cornwall Council to ensure the new franchise builds on the good work to deliver One Public Transport System for Cornwall. I will ensure passengers and local businesses have the fullest opportunity to shape our future rail services”.

The Council’s One Public Transport System for Cornwall will see half hourly trains from Penzance to Plymouth start in 2018 and the introduction of Oyster style travelcards.

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