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Confusion over franchises

RAILTRACK HAS warned that it may have to halt its network enhancement and renewal programme unless confusion over the rail franchise bidding process is resolved.

The network manager is so unhappy about the process that it is lobbying the shadow Strategic Rail Authority to change its processes.

The current franchise bidding process has seen train operating companies submitting bids to enhance infrastructure. However, Railtrack believes many of these proposals contain schemes that would compromise its own development plans.

This week it warned that unless the sSRA's franchise replacement process is speeded up there is the possibility of work being stopped.

A Railtrack spokesman said: 'There could be a hiatus in renewals work and enhancement works. We have to ensure we get maximum efficiency from our investments so we don't want to invest in something that is not needed.'

He highlighted confusion over work needed to upgrade the East Coast Main Line at Peterborough, for which he said there had been a common strategy with operator GNER.

Confusion set in, he said, when Virgin proposed plans to build a high speed bypass of Peterborough as part of its bid and then Central Trains followed with a bid to double services between Nottingham and Norwich. 'The result is we are having to plan our investments in a void.'

The spokesman warned that large urban areas such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham would be worst hit because more traffic and enhancements were needed in those cities.

'The refranchising process needs to take account of its effect on investment and we need to be involved, ' he added. 'There needs to be a debate on the best way around these issues. The franchise process needs to be quicker and we need to be closer to it.'

Railtrack has suggested alternative formats for the franchise bidding process such as presenting packages of work which the train operators could bid for.

'These issues are becoming crucial, ' said the spokesman. 'We are now entering a key period.'

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