Transport secretary Chris Grayling has launched the bidding process for the West Coast Partnership (WCP) rail franchise, a contract crucial to the launch of HS2 in 2026, and one that went terribly wrong last time.
The Department for Transport (DfT) will be keen to see no re-run of the 2012 West Coast Mainline franchise award, which had to be stopped due to ‘significant technical flaws’, costing the taxpayer around £50m. MPs said this failure was bound to be repeated unless the DfT invested heavily in skills.
This time even more is riding on the process as the winning contractor will be key to integrating the line with HS2 services.
It is understood the WCP franchise will cover both Inter-City West Coast (ICWC) services from London Euston to the West Midlands, North Wales, north west England and Scotland on the West Coast Mainline (WCML) and shadow operations on the southern section of HS2 from London to Birmingham.
The successful bidder will operate the West Coast service until 2031 as well as running the first high-speed services from 2026 if they perform well.
It will also work with the DfT and HS2 Ltd 'to consider the options for the end state, including what would be required for fully integrated operations to be undertaken by an eventual combined organisation'.
In announcing the start of the bidding process, Mr Grayling also told Parliament that options for HS2 include 'vertical integration', with the same organisation running track and train operations, as well as public-private partnership arrangements.
The WCP invitation to tender states: 'The approach to delivering operational integration will be developed in-life through collaboration between the West Coast Partnership, the Department and HS2 Ltd.'
'While the exact shape and end-state of the organisation does not need to be decided now, I am very clear of one thing: I want HS2 to become a strong, British organisation, potentially capable of not just building but also operating a successful railway here. It should also become a strong international champion for the UK – in the way, for example, that the organisation that runs Manchester Airport has,' Mr Grayling told Parliament.
Manchester Airport Group ownership structure comprises public and private shareholders, including Manchester City Council (35.5%), IFM Investors (35.5%) and the nine other Greater Manchester local authorities (29%).
The franchise deal also calls for passengers to benefit from enhanced compensation for delays of greater than 15 minutes, simpler to understand fares and ticketing. And also a more accessible railway, we are introducing an accessibility panel to advise on all aspects of how this railway is operated.
Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: 'Chris Grayling’s plan is yet more outsourcing and privatisation which shows that the Tories have no strategy for improving Britain’s railways. Just a few months ago Chris Grayling gifted Virgin and Stagecoach a £2bn bailout on the East Coast as well as a lucrative contract extension on the West Coast.
'Labour will end Chris Grayling’s rail privatisations and run our railway under public ownership for the many, not the few.'
The deadline for submission of bids is July 13, and the contract will be awarded by May 2019, with the new franchise due to start in September 2019.