scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Franchise News

Caledonian Sleepers

As previously reported, bidding has closed. The winning bidder is to be announced in August for franchise commencement on 1st April, 2015 to last for up to 15 years. Just to remind you, the three bidders are Arriva, Serco and First.


Bidding closed for the new ScotRail franchise on 17th April. The new franchise also starts on 1st April, 2015, this time for up to 10 years. Bidders are First, Abellio, Arriva, MTR (Mass Transit Rail-way of Hong Kong) and National Express and the winner will be announced in the autumn. Members of the committee met four of the five bidders by invitation. As we reported previously, they are required to take into account infrastructure improvements on both routes into Inverness even though they don't actually know what they are bidding for. There are no changes to train services in the Invitation to Tender north of Inverness but the bidders we met were very receptive to the proposals we have previously tabled, especially enhancements to the present timetable that use the existing resources more effectively. Our proposals for an hourly service between Inverness and Tain were also received with interest. As you may recall, we published an article in FNE 56 suggesting the use of reduced formation HSTs on Scottish Intercity routes and at least two of the bidders are considering this amongst their own rolling stock proposals.

Inter-city East Coast

The London-based Department for Transport (DfT) issued the 149-page InterCity East Coast (ICEC) Invitation to Tender (ITT) on 21st March. There are three bidders:

As we have come to expect, it's a goldmine of marketing-speak. The ITT asks bidders to set out detailed proposals explaining how they will build on the multi-billion pound investment planned for the East Coast Main Line (that's primarily rolling stock, rather than infrastructure) and what improvements in passenger services they will deliver should they win the franchise.

Key features include:

Although faster journey times from London to English destinations will be a franchise commitment, what the ITT does not mention is the slower journey times north of Edinburgh with Intercity Express Programme trains on which we reported in the last FNE and which we have had confirmed by a number of sources. Bidders' proposed timetables must include one path an hour for an open-access operator to run trains between London and Edinburgh calling only at York and Newcastle. Although a company calling itself Great North Eastern Railway (not related to the previous company of that name but now the owner of the title) has proposed running tilting Pendolino trains in 3 hours 39 minutes, the ITT requires that the path be a non-tilting train in conventional timings.

The ITT refers several times to improvements to stations but has very little about facilities on board. As members will know, we've had long-standing discussions with the present operators about inadequate catering on the eight-hour journey between London and the Highland capital; we report on the latest meeting below. This is what the ITT has to say about retail and catering provision:

The Franchise Operator may carry out the following Ancillary Services: the selling, lending or hiring of any goods or rights and the provision of any services (whether for a charge or not) on any train used in the provision of the Passenger Services where such goods or services are sold or provided principally for consumption or use on the relevant train, including the sale of any Fares, meals, light refreshments, newspapers, magazines, books, entertainment materials or phone cards;

Note the use of the word "may". Why "Fares" is capitalised we do not know.

On the rolling stock front, bidders will be scored on "proposals which improve the presentation of the existing rolling stock prior to the introduction of the Class 800/801 fleet." Elsewhere in the document, bidders may propose changes to the internal layout of the new stock but only with the approval of the DfT. The deadline for the bidders to respond is noon on Thursday, 19th June, 2014, the winning bidder will be announced in November and the franchise commences at 02.00 on Sunday, 1st March, 2015.