Thursday, 29 August 2013

Southeastern to lose high-speed franchise from September 2014?

Following the shambolic handling of the West Coast mainline franchise by the Department for Transport, the Southeastern franchise due to end in March 2014 has been formally extended by six months (such provision already existed in the current franchise agreement). After six months, continuation would depend on a series of direct awards by the Department for Transport.

The assumption is that these direct awards would be given to Southeastern however there is a serious political and economic issue over the franchise specification of high-speed services. The current peak extension to Deal & Sandwich is funded by Kent County Council until March 2014 which should have then allowed the new franchise specification to integrate all day services to Deal & Sandwich.

Due to the complexity of the current franchise specification all day services can only become profitable if they are integrated into the service agreement. The lack of basic working station facilities at Deal suggests Southeastern are unwilling to make any financial commitment without a guaranteed immediate profit return. The political and economic impact of shelving all day services to Deal and Sandwich however is a risky one and as such the Department for Transport may decide to award the high-speed continuation to another more accommodating train operating company.

Charles Horton, Managing Director of Southeastern "The extension to Deal and Sandwich had been funded by Kent County Council. Passenger numbers have increased and Southeastern has no indication that KCC intend withdrawing funding."

Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council "As service use grows the potential to extend it to provide a full timetable throughout the day will be a real possibility which will boost local business prospects still further."

James Conway, Department for Transport "We are talking about the High Speed services; the Classic services are fully funded. The HS extensions at peak have been a fantastic success story, and the government has to be honest about that"

Charles Horton, Managing Director of Southeastern "We're very active, and we recognise the benefits delivered by the Deal and Sandwich service. We'd like to talk to the DfT about how the services go forward in the direct award period, and whether they become integrated (in the franchise specification) or not."

Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover & Deal "I thank the Secretary of State for Transport for being so open with the House about this matter. It is an issue not just about the cost to the public purse, but about the potential for franchises to be delayed. In my constituency in Deal, we want a hard-won commuting high-speed service to be made an all-day high-speed service."