New rail chaos looms as bid­ding for South Eastern faces fur­ther de­lay

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - By Oliver Gill

THE De­part­ment for Trans­port is fac­ing a fresh rail cri­sis over the bid­ding process for one of the coun­try’s big­gest fran­chises.

Abel­lio, Stage­coach and Govia have been asked to re­sub­mit bids for the multi­bil­lion-pound South Eastern fran­chise, The Sun­day Tele­graph un­der­stands.

The de­ci­sion could have grave im­pli­ca­tions for the vi­tal rail artery that links Lon­don and the South-east, car­ry­ing 180 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. With Govia, the in­cum­bent op­er­a­tor, threat­ened with los­ing its op­er­at­ing li­cence, min­is­ters could be left with no op­tion but to re­na­tion­alise the network as the de­layed se­lec­tion process is com­pleted.

In­sid­ers ex­pect this sum­mer’s re­tender­ing process – which re­quired them to make new guar­an­tees over work­ers’ pen­sions – to push back an al­ready de­layed timetable. Some be­lieve a de­ci­sion, which was orig­i­nally sched­uled for Au­gust, may now not be forth­com­ing un­til af­ter Easter 2019.

Govia is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over its role in the bun­gled over­haul of timeta­bles in May. If found in breach of con­tract, the DFT has warned Govia could be stripped of its op­er­at­ing li­cence. There would have been no prospect of the Gov­ern­ment step­ping in if the DFT had stuck to the orig­i­nal South-east ten­der­ing timetable, as a new op­er­a­tor had been ex­pected to be up and run­ning later this year.

Polly Payne, Dft’s rail di­rec­tor gen­eral, re­cently warned the Gov­ern­ment’s “op­er­a­tor of last re­sort” – which has been in­serted as part of the East Coast main line re­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion – would be mo­bilised to take over from Govia if it was ad­judged to be neg­li­gent.

The Prime Min­is­ter is ex­pected to an­nounce a ma­jor re­view into the rail­ways in the com­ing days.

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