We are deeply concerned that the Department for Transport’s management of two of its most important franchises has been completely inadequate and could be indicative of wider weaknesses in its contract management capability. Passengers on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise have suffered an appalling level of delays and cancellations since the franchise started in 2014. At one point, less than two thirds of trains arrived on time. This totally unacceptable state of affairs which caused misery for passengers was due to a catalogue of failures by the Department, Network Rail and the operator, Govia Thameslink. The Department was too ambitious about what could be achieved, and it overlooked the poor condition of the infrastructure of the rail network. The Department was also ambivalent about the risk of industrial action and neglected to engage constructively with rail unions. The Department failed to see, or chose not to see, the perfect storm of an ambitious upgrade programme coupled with plans to increase driver controlled operation of trains. While there has been some improvement recently and there are signs that Network Rail and Govia Thameslink are now working together more effectively, we remain sceptical that this will address the serious and deep-rooted problems we have identified. On the East Coast franchise, the Department has failed to learn the lessons from previous failures of the franchise, and has again allowed the operator to promise more than it could deliver. The Department will have to put in place new arrangements for running train services. We are concerned that the Department could terminate its contract with VTEC yet still give the operator the opportunity to run the franchise again in the future. The issues we have found with the East Coast and TSGN, and the small pool of potential bidders in the market, highlight the broken model of franchising.
Published: 27 April 2018