Slow train coming? New rail franchise timetable and processes announced

26 March 2013

Passengers today are probably more concerned about whether their train is on time and they are going to get a seat rather than rather than worrying about the detail of the Government’s franchise announcements.

However, we passengers will feel the impact of these franchising decisions for years to come. It is crucial that passenger needs and expectations are at the heart of what government buys on their behalf. Today’s announcement is an important first step towards delivering long-term stability for passengers, and much-needed and delayed investment.

The commitment to re-building passengers’ views into the heart of the process is welcome. Also giving passengers an enhanced role in deciding whether a future new operator can get a franchise extension is good news. Passengers are now putting two pounds into the railway for every pound of taxpayer subsidy – so their voice should be amplified.

However, given the length of some potential current contract extensions, it is also crucial that effective passenger consultation and input takes place in this process. Some of these decisions will affect the daily journeys of passengers for a long time – Cross Country will potentially get a 43 month (or over three and a half years in old language) extension. If current contract extensions are simply presented as a done ‘commercial’ deal they will not command passenger confidence.

For too long passengers have been the passive recipients of major decisions made on their behalf behind closed doors. The voice of the user – and main funder – of the railways should be radically boosted in a process that needs to be opened up to scrutiny. We are going to work with Government to make this a reality – the time has come for passenger power!

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