As people may already know, the next First Great Western franchise is due to commence in April 2013. The successful bidder can be expected to oversee the introduction of new Intercity Express trains, manage a major increase in capacity on routes into London Paddington and assume responsibility for station maintenance.

Under Labour the process of letting contracts had become overly rigid and prescriptive. Locally it resulted in a reduced service, overcrowding, fare strikes and – ultimately – frantic backpedalling. That is why Coalition ministers promised a major overhaul of the  entire process. Our reforms will create longer, more flexible, franchises designed to protect key outcomes whilst allowing operators greater freedom to innovate and drive through efficiency savings.

The re-letting of Great Western’s franchise will be one of the first to test the changes.  Its proposed span of 15 years should not only act as a green light for meaningful investment but also encourage closer collaboration between those responsible for train and track: Network Rail is, I suspect, at least partly responsible for many passengers’ unhappy experiences.

Since becoming North Herefordshire’s MP I have witnessed a steady stream of horror stories – ranging from repeated delays and cancellations through to shoddy facilities, poor communication and abysmal customer care. This is unacceptable in 21st century Britain.

An integrated, effective rail network is essential for a dynamic economy. It brings countless benefits to taxpayers and reduces regional disparities. That is why the new franchise must deliver a true ‘seven day’ service with less congestion, better co-ordination with wider public transport and dramatically improved rolling-stock.

First Great Western’s mainline fleet is already the oldest in the country. New carriages should accommodate the needs of modern travellers – including a means of providing them with reliable  information. Some degree of disruption is inevitable, as upgrades and repairs are carried out, so candidates absolutely must present robust proposals for minimising its impact on passengers.

The Department for Transport is now running a public consultation before extending its Invitation to Tender (ITT). This is a fantastic opportunity to make your voice heard and tell the Government what you want to see improved, where and why.

More information is available online at http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/dft-2011-36. Responses should be emailed to GWconsultation@dft.gsi.gov.uk or sent in via post:

Department for Transport,
Great Western franchise replacement consultation
Franchise Consultation Manager
Zone 3/14 Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London
SW1P 4DR

The closing date is 31 March 2012: there is still over a month left and I would encourage everyone with an interest to get involved.

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