Government proposals overhaul to East Anglia rail franchise
Rail passengers on National Express East Anglia trains face the prospect of travelling for a year under a different operator after the government announced a shake-up of the railways.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond wants to overahaul the existing system by encouraging closer working between train operators and Network Rail.
The government believes the changes which will also see the introduction of longer 15 year franchises could save up to �1bn without cutting services.
But Mr Hammond said that the government was proposing a fresh bidding process next year for operators to run the Great Eastern Mainline Franchise for 12-months as a stop gap to bring the region in line with franchise timescales in other parts of the country and co-ordinate the changes with a reform of Network Rail.
The proposals follows a report by Sir Roy McNulty on value for money on the railways which highlighted poor use of trains, widely differing fare levels and a lack of clear industry leadershipm, but the changes are likely to raise questions about whether any operator would bother to bid to run a service for a year, unless they could be sure of getting the longer franchise deal.
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Sir Roy McNulty's found the industry was 'fragmented' with 'anomalies in the relationships and misaligned incentives'' between such bodies as Network Rail (NR), train companies and Government bodies such as the Office of Rail Regulation.
Sir Roy's study team found 'a lack of customer-driven relationships'' and said that Network Rail was 'generally subjective to weak financial incentives'' while benefiting from a Government guarantee of its debt.
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There was also 'a marked level of distrust between parties in the industry'' and 'overly centralised decision-making'' within key organisations.
Chris Starkie, chief executive of Shaping Norfolk's Future, which coordinates the Norwich in 90 campaign, said: 'We are less concerned about who runs the railway than the service passengers get.
'It is really important that these changes are used as an opportunity to help deliver the service improvements that we have all be campaigning for, rather than push them into the sidings. The short term contract needs to insist on a significant level of service improvements for customers, and help keep the momentum for change that has been built up in recent months.'
A National Express Group spokesman said: 'Our current East Anglia franchise runs until October 2011. We await details of the short contract to be let for 2012 and into 2013. We are keen to explore opportunities to bid for future rail contracts and will play our part in positively contributing to the work the DfT is now taking forward on industry reform.'