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Train company accused of 'gaming' the system

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 08, 2012

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The train firm which runs services between the Westcountry and London has been accused of "gaming" the system without facing a penalty.

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle pointed to FirstGroup's decision to end its contract for the Great Western line three years early, and so avoiding making an estimated £800 million in payments to the Government.

She highlighted it as a further flaw in the franchise process, which is already facing calls for reform after the West Coast rail line fiasco.

The costly debacle has meant the new Great Western deal, due to start next year, is being put on hold pending the outcome of an independent inquiry into contracting arrangements.

First Great Western has insisted it is meeting the commitment made with government.

Ms Eagle is pressing for the government review to consider changing the franchise system, arguing the current one had failed to deliver the promised benefits.

And she did not rule this out including putting the running of the railways back into public hands.

One of her criticisms was the so-called "gaming" of the system by operators, without being penalised.

Ms Eagle said: "Just to remember, the reason why Great Western is coming up now is that First could have run it for another three years had it chosen to do so.

"But they handed it back, in order to avoid making £800million of payments to Government and there doesn't seem to have been any kind of penalty, or debt, for them for doing that.

"That's another aspect of this franchising process and the way it's run which is unsatisfactory from a taxpayers' point of view," she continued.

"There's been no penalty for gaming the system.

"I'm not accusing anybody of engaging in unlawful behaviour, or anything like that, but they have been gaming the system, and there's been no penalty for it."

A FirstGroup spokesman said: "We are fulfilling our commitment as agreed with Government. We announced in May 2011 that we would not be taking up our option to extend the First Great Western contract for a further three years beyond the initial franchise term to 2013.

"We will continue to operate First Great Western until the current franchise ends and deliver for our customers."

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  • Charlespk  |  October 08 2012, 11:53AM

    Don't talk rubbish. . It was axed because it was making massive losses and the motorways were coming. Motoring has been a cash cow, public transport is a millstone around everyone's neck, with few exceptions.

    |   -9
  • cheekyman_jr  |  October 08 2012, 11:19AM

    Charles, we both know that Beeching did a total hatchet job on rationalising the rail network which is why it will always be that white elephant, at least in it's current state. I'm sure some of it was the right thing to do, but I know some of it wasn't the right thing to do.

    |   3
  • Charlespk  |  October 08 2012, 11:14AM

    Beeching did not severely rationalise the rail network because it was making profits cheekyman-jr. What we need is an efficient road network; not one that just constantly stops the traffic with traffic lights. Motoring is the most efficient and cost effective form of transport ever invented. All other forms just ration travel. Apart from inter-city services, the rail network will always be a white elephant that needs constant subsidy.

    |   -7
  • nick113  |  October 08 2012, 10:56AM

    Ms Eagle is a fool or a knave. She knows that the Labour government included the option in the agreement with First Group which offered them a three year extension. First had the absolute right to take up this option or not. They chose not to, and now she abuses them for exercising the right her party gave them.

    |   5
  • 4becks  |  October 08 2012, 10:18AM

    First are the biggest bunch of shysters in the country - they do NOTHING to benefit the communities and towns they are supposed to service. Corporate sharks is what they are!

    |   10
  • cheekyman_jr  |  October 08 2012, 9:45AM

    The sooner it's back to being public run, the better.

    |   9