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

There are three franchise renewals that currently interest us. There has been activity on them all.

Caledonian Sleepers

Bidding for this franchise has now closed and we await the outcome, promised for summer, 2014. To remind you, the three bidders are Arriva Night Trains, Serco Limited and First Caledonian Sleeper Limited. All of the present routes are required to be operated so we know that the Inverness sleeper is safe. What is not so certain, though, is the maintenance of the rolling stock at Inverness Depot. Extracts from the tender document read:

"Under the existing ScotRail franchise, stabling, servicing and light and heavy maintenance for the Caledonian Sleeper rolling stock are carried out at the Inverness Light Maintenance Depot (LMD). Transport Scotland intends that [this] will be allocated to the ScotRail franchisee ... [who will] be required to enter into a Depot Access Agreement ... if this is requested by the Caledonian Sleeper franchise. Where Bidders confirm that they intend to use Inverness LMD this will not become a Committed Obligation in the Franchise Agreement. There will be no automatic penalty for Bidders who do not intend to use Inverness LMD and alternative solutions may be proposed for the delivery of maintenance and other services."

The wording is interesting. As can be seen, there is no obligation to use Inverness Depot: maintenance could be carried out anywhere. The ITT for ScotRail contains a reciprocal clause.


Five bidders have been short-listed for the ScotRail franchise. The incumbent, First Group, is facing competition from Abellio (owned by the state-owned Dutch railway), Arriva (owned by the state-owned German railway), MTR (the partly state-owned Mass Transit Railway of Hong Kong) and National Express (the previous franchisee in Scotland). Bids are required to be submitted by late April, 2014 for a franchise which starts on 1st April, 2015. It will last for ten years with a break option after five. The draft Invitation to Tender (ITT) runs to some 174 pages and you can read the whole document here. Various stages of improvements to services connecting Inverness with Aberdeen and the Central Belt are mentioned, along with proposed dates for completion. We've reported in the past that these seem to be taking an interminable time. The ITT tells us, though, that the GRIP 3 report on Aberdeen to Inverness (option selection) should have been produced by Network Rail by 31st December and will be in the public domain once signed off by Transport Scotland (TS); we hope to report on this in the next FNE. On the Highland Main Line, the GRIP 3 report is expected to be submitted to TS by Network Rail by 30th June this year, following some sections of GRIP 2 being made available on-line a while before that. This will detail proposals to improve average journey times for a class 170 between Inverness and the Central Belt by approximately 10 minutes (our italics) with capacity to accommodate an hourly service and improved opportunities for freight. Infrastructure improvements on both routes into Inverness are shown to be complete by 31st March, 2019. Sadly for us, there are no improvements proposed north of Inverness but there is a general clause that the franchise winner should work towards journey time improvements throughout the network. FoFNL will be contacting all the bidders to tell them of our train frequency and journey time aspirations. Bidders are told that a substantial proportion of the rolling stock fleet will need re-engineering or replacement during the term of the franchise and there is an interesting Appendix entitled Rolling Stock Quality Specifications (Passenger Facing Elements) outlining TS's aspirations. It divides rolling stock requirements into seven different sections, all of which give examples of services covered. Two concern us: Highland Routes (e.g. Aberdeen - Inverness, Inverness - Wick/Thurso/ Kyle of Lochalsh, West Highland Line) and Inter-city (Central Belt - Perth/Stirling/Dundee/Aberdeen and Inverness). The Highland Routes stock is also deemed suitable for South West Rural routes. There are many requirements, too many to mention here but, if any members would like full details of them, please contact us via the addresses on page 2. What is interesting about the Inter-city specification is that class 170s as currently configured are not deemed suitable. However, proposals to upgrade them would not necessarily preclude their use or the use of class 158s. Regular readers of this newsletter will remember that we published our views on rolling stock design in FNE 56 dated May, 2012 ; this is on our website. It will be one of the points we will include in our submission to all of the bidders and we intend to include a full report of this in the next FNE.

InterCity East Coast

The London-based Department for Transport (DfT) has issued this franchise replacement timetable:

Pre-qualification OJEU Notice and PQQ issued 25th October, 2013
PQQ return 2nd December, 2013
Shortlist announced January, 2014
Bid preparation and negotiation ITT pack issued February, 2014
Bids submitted May, 2014
Winner announced October, 2014
Operation Franchise starts February, 2015
Franchise ends 2023 or 2024
OJEU - Official Journal of the European Union
PQQ - Pre-qualification Questionnaire
ITT - Invitation to Tender
There is a two-year option beyond the franchise end date.

Alongside the October documentation, the DfT issued a 91-page prospectus entitled Next Generation. It's divided into four parts. Parts A and B give include the executive summary, details of the market and of the existing East Coast Main Line (ECML) passenger services, including assets and staff numbers; Part D gives information about the bid process and the mechanism for transfer of ownership. Part C interests us most because that tells us what the franchise requirements are. It has all the usual stuff in it about making everything even better than it is now: operational performance; train and station presentation; passenger information; ticket retail; investment in staff. The good news is that, despite attempts by a number of bodies to withdraw East Coast trains beyond Edinburgh, the DfT expects the franchisee to serve all existing ECML stations and routes; this will be defined in the franchise agreement. The prospectus advises potential bidders that the winner will be introducing new rolling stock as part of the Intercity Express Project (IEP) and that there will be a requirement for a recast of the timetable during the franchise period. We go into the IEP in a separate article.