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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 11:21 GMT
New standards test for rail firms
train
Rail companies will be told what is expected of them
Train companies will be expected to come up to scratch on numerous new standards if they are to stay in business, the government has announced.

Cleanliness, punctuality and value for money are some of the standards the operators must reach to fulfil their franchise.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said the government wanted to move on from the "old British Rail days" where the customer did not come first.


I think it will be better for passengers

Alastair Darling

The announcement also referred to changes in existing franchises - with some being replaced and others being given a shorter lifespan.

Mr Darling said the policy changes would make a "substantial improvement over time" to rail services.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Darling said the government was telling rail companies exactly what was expected of them.

He said: "If they provide that they will be rewarded, if they don't they will be penalised and if necessary they will be put off their franchise".

Franchise changes include:
Creation of a new Greater Western franchise by 2006 - combining Great Western, Thames and Wessex franchises
Stagecoach to get a reduced franchise until 2007 on South West Trains route
Arriva Trains Northern loses franchise for TransPennine Express in north of England - bids sought from Connex Transport UK Ltd and FirstGroup/Keolis SA to run replacement

In the past rail companies have been given a franchise if they can run the services cheaply.

In presenting its policy, the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) said it is going to base the franchise on a number of standards, focusing more on passenger needs.

Under the system the SRA will be "much clearer about what it expects from each train operating company".

Mr Darling said: "I think it will be better for passengers".

SRA chairman Richard Bowker said: "Passengers will know that there are clear and acceptable performance measures, while operators will know that their innovation and creativity will be encouraged and rewarded within a stable operating environment."


Today's announcement is an important step in the right direction

Stewart Francis, Rail Passengers' Council

For their part train companies can expect a greater certainty of reward and incentives, in return for good performances.

The policy statement applies to franchises falling due from April 2004.

Stewart Francis, chairman of the Rail Passengers Council (RPC) said: "Today's announcement is an important step in the right direction towards ensuring that the most common problems facing passengers are dealt with by train companies."

Backing

He said the new standards should be built in quickly to both existing and new franchises.

The new standards were given the backing of the train operators collective, the Association of Train Operating Companies.

Director general, George Muir described the new policy as "a methodical programme of franchising".

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling
Mr Darling said rail companies will have clear standards

"This will help remove the uncertainty which has been hanging over the industry and aid delivery of passenger benefits and value for money," he added.

The SRA also announced the go-ahead on changes to services out of Paddington station in London, where the current three franchises will be combined to form one single franchise.

The government hopes this system, which will also recur in other London stations, will make journeys to and from the capital run more smoothly.

Proposals are also being developed for a new Northern Rail franchise, incorporating rural and urban services currently operated within the existing Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western networks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"Train companies are being set three main targets"
Atoc's Chief Executive Christopher Garnett
"Passengers definitely want to see improvements"
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling
"We want to move away from a service that leaves much to be desired"

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See also:

06 Nov 02 | England
29 Oct 02 | England
01 Oct 02 | Politics
10 Oct 02 | Archive
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