East Anglia: Bidding opens to run region’s rail services

BIDDING has opened for companies which want to compete to run the region’s rail services from early next year.

However, the length of the 17-month franchise to operate services has been criticised.

A train users’ association says it is “not expecting much” from the company that wins the contract because the time period offered is too short.

The new franchisee will take over from National Express in February 2012 and will be responsible for trains from London across Greater Anglia until at least July 2013.

This means it will provide rail services to towns, cities and villages including Great Yarmouth, Kings Lynn, Southend, Ipswich and Cambridge. It will also be one of the rail franchises serving Stratford and the Olympic stadium for the 2012 Games.

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However, David Briggs, chairman of Witham and Braintree Rail Users’ Association, said the 17-month contract was not long enough to encourage any company to make significant investment into rail in the region.

“Companies want the big contract before they spend any money on serious improvement and I’m not impressed,” he said. “This is a very short franchise and I think the Government has made a serious error of judgment.

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“They are dithering with improvement when it should be a priority, especially before the 2012 Games.”

The Government has also issued objectives for the new operator, advising the new franchisee to deliver a quality service for passengers, to ensure value for money and to manage and deliver changes for Crossrail.

Mr Briggs branded these guidelines “a load of waffle”.

“This is the least of what we would expect,” he said. “We want a vastly improved service before the Olympics and want the platforms at Braintree Freeport and Cressing lengthened from eight carriages to 12.”

He added: “These objectives are unacceptable.”

Guy McGregor, Suffolk county councillor for transport, said: “Like Norfolk and Essex county councils, we would like to see the mainline service from Norwich via Ipswich to London speed up. We would also like to see the frequency of services increased.”

National Express lost its East Anglia rail franchise in November 2009 which meant the company could not renew its contract.

The companies shortlisted to bid for the contract were announced by the Government on March 24.

They are Abellio Greater Anglia Limited, Eastern Railway Limited and Stagecoach Anglia Trains Limited.

As part of the bidding process each of the bidders will be required to outline how they intend to improve passenger satisfaction.

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