Government grants two-year extension for c2c franchise
By: Gareth Bayer
National Express gets a 24-month reprieve to operate extra services for Olympics.
THE FRANCHISE TO operate the former London, Tilbury & Southend network of services was originally granted to Prism Rail and commenced on May 26th, 1996. It was one of the longer 15-year contracts as there was a commitment to replace the ageing train fleet, which included a number of Class 302 units delivered in 1958. An early order was placed for replacement Class 357 ‘Electrostars’ in June 1997 but, by the time these entered service in 2001, the franchise had been acquired by the National Express Group and rebranded as c2c. The trains have subsequently proved to be among the most reliable on the system with a current record of 54,240 miles per casualty (this is defined as a rolling stock defect that causes a five minute delay or more to a timetabled service). This has enabled c2c to record very high levels of train punctuality, which has reached 98% in recent months, together with achieving a 91% satisfaction rating in the Spring 2010 National Passenger Survey organised by Passenger Focus.
The Department for Transport had intended to offer a new franchise described as Essex Thameside in 2010 but a change in policy to offer longer contracts in return for more capital investment in stations and facilities has seen delays to this process. There has also been a desire to avoid a contract changeover in the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games, where c2c has agreed to provide enhanced train services and improved levels of staffing. There will also be a greater service frequency at West Ham for connection to Canary Wharf with effect from the December 2011 timetable change.
As a result, it has been agreed that the current contract will be extended to run until May 26th, 2013. This decision also indicates a rehabilitation of the status of the National Express Group, which has worked hard under a new management team to redress criticism resulting from the East Coast franchise withdrawal in November 2009. Indications are that new franchise bids will now be considered from the company but NEG has stated that these will be confined to routes providing services in the London & the South East along with regional centres rather than former InterCity operations.
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