TRAIN operators serving Sheffield have welcomed extensions to their franchises announced by the Government this week.
The process was derailed over the West Coast franchise fiasco when the awarded contract had to be scrapped due to Department for Transport errors.
The West Coast debacle led to two independent reviews – one on the West Coast fiasco and the other on the whole franchise process.
This week’s announcement is the direct result of the reviews.
The new franchise timetable shows the Northern franchise, due to end in April 2014, will not begin until February 2016, while the East Midlands Trains franchise, run by Stagecoach and due to end in April 2015, will not begin until October 2017 - Northern runs local services across South Yorkshire, while East Midlands runs trains between Sheffield and London, Nottingham and Manchester.
Current operators will negotiate with the DfT about carrying on during their franchise “overtime”.
Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach Group finance director, said: “This is an important step in getting rail franchising back on track. It brings greater clarity and confidence in the future for everyone with an interest in the continued success of the UK rail network.
“We welcome the extension. Our focus will be on further improving rail travel for our customers and securing a good return for investors who play a key role in the funding of the UK rail network.
“Despite the difficulties of the past year, the core franchising model works for passengers, Government and investors. It has delivered record passenger growth, huge investment in trains and stations and a more efficient system for taxpayers.
“Now we have a timetable of the Government’s plans, it is critical the momentum is maintained. The focus must be on delivery and ensuring a flow of franchise competitions to maintain investor confidence.
“We will continue to work closely with the DfT and its newly established Franchise Advisory Panel in the months ahead to help deliver an improved franchising system that builds on the benefits the private sector has delivered for taxpayers and rail passengers.”
Ian Bevan, Northern Rail managing director, said: “It is too early to comment on the Department’s franchising announcement in any detail.
“We are currently considering the implications of the full announcement for the Northern Rail franchise.”
First Group’s Transpennine Express, which runs services between Doncaster and Sheffield and Manchester, has seen its franchise extended from April 2015 to February 2016.
Nick Donovan, managing director, said: ““The Government has announced it’s intention the TransPennine Express franchise will continue until February 2016.
“This announcement provides continuity for our customers and we look forward to entering into discussions with the Department for Transport.
“Since 2004 we have taken the franchise from strength to strength with record passenger numbers, greatly improved customer satisfaction and significantly improved train service performance.
“FTPE’s commitment to customers will continue with our investment of £60 million in a new fleet of trains that will provide a significant capacity boost and improved connectivity across the north of England and into Scotland.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Conservative MP for Derbyshire Dales, said: “This programme is a major step in delivering tangible improvements to services, providing long-term certainty to the market and supporting our huge programme of rail investment.
“Above all, in future franchise competitions we are placing passengers in the driving seat by ensuring that their views and satisfaction levels are taken into account when deciding which companies run our railway services.
“Franchising has been a force for good in the story of Britain’s railways, transforming an industry that was in decline into one that today carries record numbers of passengers.”
Cross Country Trains, which operates services between South-West England and Scotland, via Sheffield, has had its franchise extended from April 2016 to November 2019.