Sunday, 11 March 2007

First Great Western can simply add more services without permission from the DfT

MYTH. First Great Western needs express permission from the Department for Transport to add services or to implement major timetabling changes. These have to be signed off by the Department via appropriate derogations. It is, therefore, a patent falsehood for the Department, or anyone else, to claim that First Great Western is responsible for the timetable and services and can make changes as and when it wishes. Of course, none of this is to say that the Department will necessarily stand in the way of FGW adding more services, but it does need to give its express consent. More understandably, permission is also required from Network Rail.

First Great Western made severe cuts to services in order to win the new franchise

MYTH. Like every other bidder for the Greater Western franchise, First Group had to submit a bid based on a Base Case Tender set by the Department for Transport. This is a compulsory part of the bidding process and is, in reality, the only tender on which bidders are assessed and, ultimately, chosen. The government (the Strategic Rail Authority in this instance as it was still in existence when the franchise first went out to tender) sets the specifications for the base case – the train operating companies have virtually no input whatsoever. So, from the outset, the base case which was based on Service Level Commitment 2 (SLC2), always had cuts. In other words, it was the government that built the cuts into the franchising process and made companies bid against it.

First Great Western made the unpopular changes to the December 2006 timetable

MYTH. This is the biggest myth of all and one that has frequently been repeated in the media and elsewhere. The truth is that the December 2006 timetable was set by the Department for Transport in consultation with Network Rail, and not by First Great Western. Certainly, First Great Western will have been invited to comment and did consult widely on the changes so they could put customer representations for the DfT, however, the final say on timetabling lies with the DfT. It is probable that the customer feedback made by First to the government as a consequence of the consultation process resulted in some proposed cuts being scrapped. Like First Great Western, the majority of other train operating companies also have their timetables set by the Department for Transport.