Back in April, we wrote how Southeastern’s passengers were being let down by another planned extension of the current franchise. Having been delayed several years already, another extension was not welcome news in the face of many chronic issues faced by passengers.
Yesterday however Go-Ahead, the majority owner of the Govia joint venture that operates the current South Eastern franchise, announced that the Department for Transport has extended their current direct award all the way through to the 1st of April 2020. Not to be confused with an April Fools joke, this extension is yet another failure by the Department of Transport, the price of which is paid by long-suffering passengers.
So what happens next? This extension is supposedly to allow for the outcomes of the Williams Rail Review to be implemented, with the final report expected in the Autumn. However, this only results in a 6 to 7 month period to restart the process and hand over to the new operator – and that is assuming that the model and process remains relatively unchanged! It seems inevitable therefore that yet another Direct Award will be granted or that the Department for Transport takes over as an Operator of Last Resort.
Regardless of the final outcome, this announcement is another heavy blow for long-suffering passengers. All of the promised, and much needed, improvements have yet again been kicked down the road to a unspecified, and uncertain, future date. In the meantime, passengers will continue to suffer with chronic overcrowding on increasingly elderly, unreliable and unsuitable rolling stock. Although there were clear flaws in the franchising process, perpetually keeping the existing franchise in ‘life support mode’ does passengers no favours.
A spokesperson from the Department for Transport said that this extension will allow them to “develop a solution that delivers the capacity and performance benefits that passengers are expecting”. Many passengers will today be wondering what exactly the Department for Transport has been doing instead for the last few years.