The government has decided to extend the franchise of First Great Western (FGW) for another five years. In contradiction of supposed Tory principles of free market capitalism, which encourage, competition no other operator was allowed to bid for the service.
Is that because First Great Western who run the service from London to Wales and the West Country have done such a splendid job that no one could possibly do better? Err, No.
Just hours after news of the award broke, furious commuters were facing 60-minute delays as the company reduced services to London’s Paddington station to four an hour, blaming “damage to signalling during overnight engineering work.”
First Great Western held the dubious distinction of being the worst-performing UK rail operator for many years. It no longer holds that title. Still it scored one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of the larger operators (40% according to a Which? survey of rail passengers published in February 2013). It is unlikely to improve as it plans to axe catering services and restrict the role of Guards.
Like the other privateers public money is being pumped into the company.
On top of nearly £1bn in subsidies, FGW will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in taxpayers’ cash being pumped into electrification of the network, and replacement of its inter-city fleet.
The company will not pay any money towards either project.
Transport union RMT said the franchise extension was a “stitch-up which shows that the chaos of rail franchising is continuing to deliver massive rewards for failure to train companies whose only role in life is to rob every penny piece that they can from Britain’s privatised rail network.”
General secretary Mick Cash said the extension showed “that rail privatisation is a one-way ticket to the bank for these companies.”
He accused the company of “holding the British people to ransom” as a monopoly provider.
“With the company planning to axe catering services, and threatening the jobs and role of the guards when the new inter-city trains are introduced, RMT will continue to fight for jobs, pay and decent working conditions from a company that is clearly awash with money and which has no excuse for making any cuts whatsoever.
“The union will also continue to campaign for the public ownership of our railways and an end to the franchising racket,” he said.