Brown calls for speedy restart of rail contracts

Marion Dakers
A REVIEW commissioned in the wake of the West Coast franchising fiasco has called for changes to the bidding process, including a hiring drive to bring more experienced staff into the Department for Transport.

Former Eurostar boss Richard Brown used his report, published yesterday, to call for passenger satisfaction to be taken into account when considering bids.

He also wants to see shorter franchise lengths with break clauses, plus clearer bid requirements listed upfront, to ensure companies deliver what they promise.

However, he stopped short of demanding that the DfT be stripped of its franchising powers, saying that the process “is not fundamentally flawed” and should restart as soon as possible.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he will soon decide whether to unfreeze three franchise contests that were halted in October, and will set out plans for future route competitions by spring.

Brown voiced concerns that understaffing at the DfT contributed to the errors that led to the collapse of the West Coast contest in September.

He said the department should address “a sharp asymmetry between the capability and resources of bidders and that of the department” by hiring industry experts and by entrusting franchises to a separate team that would oversee the process from beginning to end.

Train companies broadly welcomed the report. FirstGroup, which had its West Coast contract scrapped, said it planned to resubmit bids once the process restarts.

KPMG transport advisory head Ed Thomas said the report’s recommendations were a “welcome dose of pragmatism” that would help rebalance the risks borne by the state and the operating companies.