Bottom Line: Rail innovation comes from an unlikely source

Marion Dakers
IT’S A symptom of Britain’s topsy-turvy railway set-up that Arriva, owned by the German state, is trying to encourage more competition just days after FTSE 250 firm Go-Ahead’s venture was picked for a new contract that offers even less chance for change than a typical UK rail franchise.

Arriva said in its results it is awaiting approval to start new services on the West Coast and East Coast lines in 2016, which would offer customers a choice of operator and connections. Meanwhile, the enlarged Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern contract was on Friday given to Govia, the 65-35 joint venture between Go-Ahead and French state-owned Keolis.

The operator of the new franchise, which sprawls from Portsmouth to Cambridge through central London, will effectively act as project manager and hand ticket revenues directly to the government – due, it says, to the complexity of the service. Of the £430m upgrades planned for the lines, the firm will be expected to chip in “approximately £40m”.

The award is a disappointment to First Group, which will lose its First Capital Connect services as part of this franchise change. The firm’s Great Western arm, meanwhile, is benefiting from £7.5bn of Network Rail spending – which, in turn, was last year moved back onto the books of the public sector. It’s enough to make any commuter’s head spin.

While Arriva should be applauded for trying to offer something more on the East and West Coast lines, it’s a pity the franchising system does not allow more innovation like this.

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