Rail franchise – sleeper must be protected
The MP for the West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly constituency of St Ives, Andrew George, has today urged Transport Ministers to reject short term contracts and to protect the sleeper service as rail firms prepare to bid next year for the Great Western franchise.
First Group – who run the Great Western service – announced earlier this year that it was taking advantage of a break clause in its franchise agreement to bow out three years early from 2013. The Government is expected to invite tenders for the new contract next year. It has indicated that it is considering offering train companies shorter franchises. Existing franchises run for 10 years.
Mr George, who successfully campaigned for the retention of the sleeper service to his constituency in Penzance under the franchise five years ago, fears that shorter contracts would not give operating companies the confidence to invest in new rolling stock or in other improvements, but may be tempted to cut services instead.
He said: “The Government must ensure continuity of service and provide my constituents with reassurances that the vital sleeper service remains firmly part of the contract and is protected.
“We need long term investment. Cornish rail users deserve a good range of services as well as reliability, comfort and competitive ticket pricing.
“Every single aspect of the franchise which we had to fight for last time is now up for grabs again. This includes the sleeper – which is part of an integrated service between Penzance and Paddington and which is such an important facility.
“The clinching argument for Ministers last time was when we spelt out to them that they had to either give us high-speed rail lines (costing £billions) or retain the sleeper service. They could not deny us both.
“I will be going through all these issues with Ministers – we managed to persuade them last time that it was written into the contract and we need to make sure again this time.”
Mr George has written to Transport Minister, Rt. Hon Theresa Villiers MP, to raise his concerns about the future of the franchise and to seek assurances about the sleeper service.
Sleeper images from http://www.seat61.com/