Rail franchise mistake could hold up metro
THE debacle over rail franchises could lead to the Bristol Metro and reopening of the line to Portsihead being delayed.
Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin admitted yesterday that the Government was wholly to blame for the mistake which led to the multi-million West Coast Mainline rail franchise being cancelled.
Mr McLoughlin added that bidding on all other franchises has been halted while inquiries into the Whitehall error were completed.
The company which will run Bristol's railways from next year will have to operate the Bristol Metro service as well as services between London and the West Country.
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The bidding process will be delayed until at least December but the halt is likely to stretch into next year.
First is competing against Arriva, National Express and Stagecoach for the multi-million contract.
As reported in the Post, the government has announced £200 million of grants to pay for the Bristol Metro and has made it clear the winner of the Great Western franchise will have to operate the services.
The new franchise, which is due to start next year will include:
â The Bristol Metro service
â New stations at Portishead and Pill.
â A potential station at Ashton Gate
â Extra services to Severn Beach
â Trains between Temple Meads and Portishead.
It is still unclear when the bidding process will start but yesterday's surprise announcement has thrown the process into chaos.
Mr McLoughlin pulled the plug saying "unacceptable mistakes" were made by the Department for Transport (DfT) in the way it managed the franchise bids from FirstGroup, Virgin and two other companies. Describing the bidding process as "flawed" and "insane", Sir Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin Trains, had launched a legal challenge to the FirstGroup decision.
Having intended to contest the challenge, Mr McLoughlin is now dropping his opposition, cancelling the West Coast franchise competition and ordering two independent inquiries into what went wrong with the West Coast process.
Mr McLoughlin admitted he was "very angry" about what had happened. He went on: "The original model didn't take into account inflation and also some elements of the passenger number increases over a number of years. I want to make it absolutely clear that neither FirstGroup nor Virgin did anything wrong. The fault of this lies wholly and squarely with the DfT. Both of those two companies acted properly on the advice that they were getting from the Department."
Mr McLoughlin has put on "pause" the bidding process for three other rail franchises. He said: "I want to make sure what lessons need to be learnt from what went wrong with this have not been repeated in those particular franchises."
He said it would cost £40 million to reimburse the costs of the companies who bid for the West Coast line.