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Wednesday 15 September 2010

Virgin On The Resurrected – 2

So the realisation had come upon the Department for Transport (aka DaFT) that their cunning plan, for getting some mileage out of the new additions to the fleet of Pendolino trains, was in fact not particularly cunning at all. Allied to all the other good reasons not to try and run one of the trainsets between London and Edinburgh, as I noted previously, was the possibility that the Pendolino might not be good for the traction supply (which has had to be beefed up on lines where it runs at present).

Virgin Trains (VT), ever optimistic that their demise may be avoided, now launched a cunning plan of their own. Figuring out that the new Government may have priorities more pressing than launching a bidding war for the right to run InterCity trains on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), they dangled a pleasantly tempting carrot before DaFT.

Were DaFT to be minded to award VT a two year extension to their franchise, a further 42 coaches could be ordered and put into service, at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Why another 42? Well, the new coaches already ordered, in true penny pinching style, would only be enough to make 31 trains up to eleven coaches from the current nine. That would leave 21 trains still with nine coaches, and keeping one type away from the other’s diagrams would, in practice, be impossible.

What happens now? One clue is in the timescale: the franchise comes up in 2012, and the bidding process could take well over a year, but nothing has been announced on that front. So the two year extension, especially if it brings a uniform fleet of trains, might be too tempting for the Government to pass up.

Seasoned surveyor of the railway and founder of Rail Business Intelligence Roger Ford reckons that the Government will be unable to resist this particular temptation, and will sign off a two year extension for VT, before the civil servants at DaFT breathe a collective sigh of relief. I would go further.

Two years would take the franchise renewal to 2014. That would still be in the Government’s first term, and they may then be in the middle of a period of severe unpopularity over their spending cuts. Better to kick the ball into the long grass properly: five years, taking it to 2017, would mean getting back to the process in a second and hopefully calmer term, or, if they get booted out, it’s someone else’s problem.

I am not a betting man. But if I were, a few quid might be going on VT getting another five years.

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