DfT launches Northern and TPE franchise consultation

The competitions for the next Northern and TransPennine Express franchises were launched on June 9, when the Department for Transport published the consultation documents, prospectuses aimed at potential bidders, and the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notices. 

Winners of the two franchises will be announced in October 2015. Both franchises will start on February 6 2016. The DfT has yet to decide on the exact duration, but is planning seven to nine years for TPE and eight to ten years for Northern, with possible one-year extensions.

Also available from the DfT website are preliminary questionnaires for companies to complete, should they wish to be invited to bid for either or both contracts. Bidders have to return the questionnaires by July 17, with the shortlist due to be announced in August/September 2014. The consultations close on August 18. 

The scope of the Invitations To Tender (due to be published in December 2014) and the bidding process itself will be undertaken by the evolving partnership of the DfT and Rail North. 

But while the latter had preferred the two franchises to be relet as a single entity, the DfT is keeping them separate, and has set very different goals for each. 

The consultation document seeks views from all ‘stakeholders’, but says “views from passengers who travel on the Northern and TPE franchises, as well as from other members of the public, are especially welcome”. 

Given the way the current contracts have led to both Northern and TPE fleets being smaller than either operator might wish (issues recognised in the document), the Secretary of State for Transport’s objective is that “the franchises “will be expected to deliver a transformation in the way the railway serves its markets and communities in the North of England”, and that “the new franchises will create an opportunity to rejuvenate this important part of Great Britain’s railway, and there will be ample scope for innovation and modernisation”.

But the underlying theme is to reduce subsidy, particularly at Northern (where it is put at 53p per passenger km), and to balance service quality and passenger satisfaction with affordability.

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