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Rail travel


“There is a risk attached to innovation, but that’s what the corporate traveller wants to see





fares, and to reduce the times of day when off-peak fares can be used. At the same time we have learned that


the two main bidders for the West Coast franchise committed vast amounts of money over the next 14 years, with a winning £5.5billion bid by FirstGroup trumping the £4.8billion bid by incumbent operator Virgin Trains. Following action from Virgin and pressure


from various bodies and rail users, the government backed down, with the Department for Transport revealing it had got its sums wrong, and subsequently cancelling the award of West Coast to FirstGroup. It also announced a wide- ranging review of the whole franchising process and is due to report back on this by the end of this year. A Virgin Rail Group spokesperson said:


“We welcome the frank announcement by the Secretary of State, acknowledging the flaws in the way the InterCity West Coast competition was assessed.


"We are ready to play a full part in


assisting the review to help deliver a franchising system that better serves passengers, taxpayers and the interests of all bidders," added the spokesperson. At the time of writing it had just been announced that Virgin would continue operating the franchise for nine to 13 months beyond the original expiry date of December 9th. One alternative had been for the DfT to take over direct control of the route as it did on the East Coast line which is still being run directly after National Express backed out of its franchise commitment. Back on the West Coast, another tender


will be held to find an operator for a period of two or three years while the line's long- time future is resolved. Whatever happens services in the short-


term will continue as now, and West Coast franchise bidders will be compensated to the tune of £40million by the taxpayer, in a major embarrassment for the government.


Needless to say, the whole process has


been described variously as a "complete mess" and "embarrassing debacle" by shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, and, rather splendidly, an "omnishambles" by former transport secretary Lord Adonis. The taxpayer faces a further huge bill to


compensate bidders for other franchises if the whole system is changed. The DfT has also announced a delay in the re-letting of other major franchises in 2013, including Great Western and East Coast. Some observers feel the enquiry is a positive move, as it could result in a wider remit for franchise bidders. But it could also delay the introduction of a smart ticketing system, which is a condition of new rail franchises. Capita Business Travel's head of rail


product, Raj Sachdave, says, “In the short term the review of how franchises operate is welcome. The evaluation process at present is based on the bottom line return, but let’s look at other things that could 


THE BUSINESS TRAVEL MAGAZINE 59


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