The Department of Transport (DfT) lacks a coherent strategic vision for the rail system, a committee of MPs has found.
This ‘presents a risk that it will make decisions now that prove costly in the future’ according to a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
The committee’s report into the rail franchising programme argues that there is ‘a real risk to value for money’ if market interest in operating rail franchises declines any further.
It acknowledges that the DfT has taken steps to improve its franchise letting capability since the collapse of the Intercity West Coast competition in 2012 but says that the department’s capability to manage franchise contracts ‘has not noticeably improved’.
MPs say the DfT does not know where it is going on rail
The report says that although the DfT has increased its focus on improving passenger experience through rail franchising, ‘it is not clear when passengers are going to see the promised improvements in service quality’.
In addition, the committee says the scale and uncertainty of planned infrastructure improvements ‘is delaying franchise competitions, and will result in contractual changes, which will come at a cost’.
It says the DfT should build on the Hendy review of Network Rail projects to develop greater certainty about infrastructure requirements.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘We support the need for a clear vision for the whole of Britain’s railway network, with clear choices by governments. The rail industry needs to inform those choices and to be allowed to deliver the required results in the best way possible, committed to improving efficiency and our customers’ experience.
‘We continue to work in partnership with governments and other franchising authorities to find the best way forward to make further improvements to how passenger and freight services are delivered.’
But Mick Cash, general Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, called the report ‘hopelessly inadequate’. He said: “This report attempts to create the impression that the Great Rail Rip-off can be halted by a bit of tinkering with the franchising process, and encouraging more bidders, when it is privatisation itself that has reduced our railways to a chaotic, money-making racket.’