Is this the end for rail franchising?

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Is this the end of rail franchising? This morning the UK Transport Secretary has announced that train operating companies (TOCs) can transfer their current rail franchise agreements to ‘Emergency Measures Agreements’. Read @alexcburrows blog here:

We are currently in the middle of an extraordinary situation.  As the UK, along with the rest of the world, battles the COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing governments respond in a variety of ways but with the common need to take radical and dramatic steps that would have been simply unbelievable only a few weeks ago.

This morning the UK railway has just borne witness to such an event with the announcement from the Transport Secretary that train operating companies (TOCs) can transfer their current rail franchise agreements to ‘Emergency Measures Agreements’.  He states that these will be for a minimum of six months and that these are temporary measures.  But let’s be clear, given the background of the still ongoing Williams Review (which must surely now be in the long grass for many many months), we are not likely to see rail franchises return.  Given the parlous state many were in before the arrival of coronavirus – and given the future uncertainty of where we will end up – these management contracts are likely to remain in place until a new regime for the delivery of rail services can be developed and legislated for.

In practical terms, the TOCs can choose to accept an Emergency Measures Agreement with the Department for Transport to run under these new arrangements, or they can hand back the keys to the franchise and the Government’s Operator of Last Resort (currently running LNER and Northern already) will step in.  Additionally, from today emergency timetables have been put into place along with measures for passengers to cancel tickets – more information can be found on the Rail Delivery Group website here:

The role of the UK railway is temporarily going to shift to a focus on our key workers and to freight.  But I would like to add an open offer from BCRRE – our team is keen and willing to actively provide support in any way we can which includes:

  • Support to the Government and the Industry in developing digital tools and systems that can identify what services are required using evidence of the new type of demand;
  • Support to the rail industry, particularly SMEs, around the management of skills and innovation, as well as enterprise support, to get through this hugely challenging period;
  • Support to people who want to develop their skills or their ideas in preparation for when we get back to normal in the future.

The Statement from the Transport Secretary can be found here:


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