Dutch-owned group teams up with Stagecoach for East Anglia franchise competition. FirstGroup and National Express are also on DfT’s shortlist

 

Bidders will be expected to implement the recommendations of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce

 

The government has announced that three bidders have been shortlisted for the forthcoming East Anglia train operating franchise competition.

Incumbent Abellio, bidding in partnership with Stagecoach, faces competition to retain the franchise, which will commence in October 2016, from FirstGroup and National Express Group.

All three will now be asked to show how they will improve the region’s railways, including providing reduced journey times to London, more reliable services, and better connections.

They will also be expected to show how they could achieve the recommendations of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce, which includes reducing London to Norwich journey times to 90 minutes.

“We have ambitious plans for East Anglia’s rail network, and the successful bidder will be central to making these plans a reality,” said rail minister Claire Perry.

“We want to find a partner who will help us meet the increasing demand for transport in the region by providing faster, more reliable journeys and better connections across the region
and beyond.”

Abellio and Stagecoach’s decision to partner for the franchise marks new territory. While Abellio has partnered with Serco on a 50:50 basis to operate the Merseyrail and Northern contracts in the past, its most recent successes in franchising, for the ScotRail and existing Greater Anglia contracts, have been on the basis of solo bids. For East Anglia, Stagecoach is acting as a minority partner with a 40% shareholding in Anglia Rail Holdings, the company set up to mount the bid.

Abellio’s performance at Greater Anglia has been under scrutiny for some time and it is likely that the Dutch-owned group is seeking to capitalise on Stagecoach’s experience of improving performance at its rail portolio, in particular the success of its alliance with Network Rail on the South West Trains network out of London Waterloo.

Commenting on the shortlisting, Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach Group, said: “We believe our strong track-record, combined with the insight of the incumbent operator, Abellio, can produce a powerful joint bid.”

Meanwhile, winning the East Anglia franchise is critical to FirstGroup, which set a target to come away from the current round of franchising with two large franchises and one small franchise by April 2017, with the aim of achieving £100m annual profit from its rail division (PT097).

After the loss of the ScotRail and First Capital Connect franchises, the group had set its sights on winning two franchises out of East Coast (subsequently lost to a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin), East Anglia, West Coast and TransPennine, which First currently holds in a joint venture with Keolis.

First has experience operating on some of what will become the East Anglia network. Between 1997 and 2004 it held the Great Eastern franchise, responsible for the operations of stopping and limited stop services on the Great Eastern Main Line from London Liverpool Street to destinations in Essex and Suffolk.

Experience of the network will also no doubt play a part in NEG’s strategy. The group operated the Greater Anglia franchise between 2004 and early 2012, when control passed to Abellio after it failed to be shortlisted. Winning the contract is also critical for NEG as it currently only holds one UK rail franchise, the c2c route out of London Fenchurch Street.

Andrew Chivers, managing director of the group’s rail division, said that NEG would “focus on developing a bid that delivers real customer service improvements that meet the region’s ambitions for a high quality railway”.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

 

 

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