19 December 2018

There is a strong case for services on East West Rail's 'western section' to initially be provided by an existing operator rather than Government seeking to let a franchise, according to England's Economic Heartland.

With the section between Oxford and Bedford and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, due to open in the early 2020s, EEH believes there is a pressing need for clarity over how services will be operated.

And with the industry undergoing a fundamental review, the cancellation of a number of franchising processes, and travel demand often being initially underestimated, having a bespoke arrangement with an existing operator may provide the best offer to passengers in the shorter-term.

Mayor Dave Hodgson, Chair of England's Economic Heartland's Strategic Transport Forum, said: "East West Rail is an incredibly important project for the Heartland, playing a fundamental role in realising our economic potential and achieving net gain for our environment.

"Given the scale of growth we're already experiencing across the region, it is important that its benefits are realised from the get-go, but that any operator isn't bound to a flawed franchise specification which fails to maximise longer-term strategic opportunities.

"This is why using an existing operator in the shorter-term would enable the framework for any future franchise to be based on a real-world understanding of travel patterns and demand, rather than forecasts which can so often – with the benefit of hindsight – prove to be far removed from reality.

"It would also enable a future franchise to take into account work on the future of the West Coast Mainline post HS2's opening – in particular enabling a new north-south corridor between Northampton and Old Oak Common. 

"Finally, rail services could initially be incorporated within existing operations, helping to manage pressure on existing infrastructure until such time as capacity is improved."

At its meeting on December 7, the Forum resolved to invite Chiltern Railways and Great Western to its January meeting in order to hear their views on the process.​