Franchise extension for National Express

NATIONAL Express has been given a six-month extension to its East Anglia rail franchise, which was due to end in March next year.

The move was widely expected, with the coalition Government having already signalled that it planned to review the franchising system before awarding a new contract for the Greater Anglia region.

But confirmation of the 28-week extension, which will see National Express continue to operate services until mid-October, 2011, was condemned by rail union leader Bob Crow as a “reward for failure”.

The former Labour government last year threatened to strip National Express of the East Anglia franchise, and of that for south Essex commuter service c2c, after the group walked away from its loss-making East Coast franchise.

However, Ministers eventually stopped short of terminating the deals, but decided not to take up options to extend the group’s remaining franchises beyond next March’s expiry date. The extension of the deals by the new Government indicates that National Express could also be in the frame when bidding for the new franchise eventually opens, pariticularly as there will be little time for a new operator to “bed in” before the 2012 London Olympics at Stratford.

National Express Group chief executive Dean Finch said: “We’re pleased to have been given this initial extension and to be able to continue to serve our customers on the East Anglia franchise. We continue to explore opportunities to deliver our industry-leading rail performance across both our franchises beyond 2011.”

But Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: “This is reward for failure on a massive scale. National Express walked away from the East Coast franchise leaving a trail of chaos in their wake and were supposed to be barred from bidding for new work or being awarded any extensions.”