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Welcome & Editorial - November 2012

6 November 2012

Could the franchising fiasco be an opportunity in disguise?

In the few weeks since the last Journal we’ve seen the appointment of the 13th Secretary of State for Transport of the last decade, the largest turnout of TSSA members on a demonstration in many years, significant debates at the TUC and Labour Party conferences and perhaps most importantly of all, the complete collapse of the franchise bidding system.

Whilst the immediate result will be almost ‘business as usual’ on the West Coast line, the longer term impacts may vary wildly, from the definitely bad to the potentially brilliant.

Starting with the bad, is the fact that given the Government is reluctant to hand lines to the publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways, existing franchise holders are likely to be able to extract whatever terms they like from the Department for Transport for the stop-gap extensions. More positively, one would hope that a new franchising system would discourage the ‘promise big, then run away’ behaviour of some TOCs who hand back their franchises as their premium payments back to government start to increase. The very public rubbishing of the dog’s dinner of franchising can only help make the case for the complete transformation of the system – and it is here that the most potentially exciting possibilities exist.

Virgin are being given an extension of between 9 and 13 months. A short-term franchise – unlikely to be less than 18 months would then be open to any bidder. Using the lower numbers, 9+18=27, and in December we’ll be 29 months from the general election and still fewer from the point when governments can become reticent about long-term and potentially unpopular decisions. As Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary says, we need to be lobbying those yet unconvinced or not yet brave enough to accept the case for public ownership. Just maybe we can turn an interesting bit of maths into something that can transform the rail industry for decades to come.

Ben Soffa, editor

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