The Department for Transport’s rail franchising model is “broken”, the Public Accounts Committee concluded in a report looking at two major franchises.
In scathing findings issued on 27 April, the PAC labelled the DfT’s handling of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) and the East Coast franchises as “completely inadequate”. It said passengers were paying the price.
The TSGN franchise operates services in the south east of England and also supports delivery of the Thameslink programme, which aims to improve services for passengers travelling north-to-south through London.
TSGN passengers have endured “appalling” services since 2014, with less than two thirds of trains arriving on time, the MPs said.
This was caused, the committee suggested, by the DfT being too ambitious in trying to expand services, modernise practices and support the Thameslink programme, while operating on an unreliable rail network.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “The operation of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise has been a multi-faceted shambles causing untold misery for passengers.
“If taxpayers are to have any faith in government’s ability to deliver an effective passenger rail network then it must conduct and act on a thorough review before any further franchises are awarded.”
She added that passenger interests should be embedded in contracts and ensure taxpayers are properly protected should franchises fail.
The PAC also accused the department of being “ambivalent” about the risk of industrial action and neglecting to engage constructively with unions.
But the DfT called the PAC’s report “unbalanced” and said it failed to grasp the complexity of the situation.
“It also fails to understand that the department expressly created the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise to deliver the Thameslink Programme – a once-in-a-generation infrastructure upgrade to revolutionise North-South journeys through London for millions of passengers,” a spokesperson said.
“New Thameslink trains are already in service and are transforming performance for customers.
“The delay and disruption Southern passengers experienced due to strike action in 2016 was unacceptable, but services have improved dramatically and a brand new programme will begin next month bringing further improvements to their journeys.”
On the East Coast franchise, the PAC said the DfT had failed to learn the lessons of previous failures on the route and allowed operators to make promises they could not deliver.
Source: Public Finance