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Rail bidders kept in the dark over market led proposals

3105757 electification will pave the way for faster more resillient services

Anticipation in the rail industry is building as the government continues to deliberate over how and which projects will be taken forward as part of its call for ideas to get more private funding for rail projects.

Between 31 May and 31 July this year, the Department for Transport (DfT) held a call for ideas for market led proposals (MLP) for rail projects which were privately funded or financed. In a separate call, it also published a market sounding questionnaire for ideas for a southern access route into Heathrow.

Feedback on the selected projects for both routes and more clarification on the process which will be used to take the proposed schemes forward is due in “the autumn”. In October, transport secretary Chris Grayling told industry officials to expect feedback “very soon”, however six weeks later bidders remain in the dark. 

The call for rail proposals was made in the wake of the Hansford Review, which said more should be done to open up the railway and provide a route for private investors to fund or finance rail projects.

However, some in the industry are questioning why a decision on which schemes will be taken forward has not yet been published.

“We have already had one investor pull out, because they said the government was taking too long to make a decision,” said a source connceted to one of the proposals. “There are potentially others, but they won’t commit until we get more clarity on the process.

“The government gave us a deadline and now they need to stick to theirs. If they don’t they’ll lose the chance to capitalise on the current momentum in the industry, backers will get bored and take their money elsewhere.”

Transport for London city planning director Alex Williams also expressed his frustrations in October this year over a lack of commitment from the government over the routes into Heathrow.

“What we want is firm commitments that Western Rail access happens, and Southern Rail access happens, and it happens in a way that genuinely increases capacity,” said Williams.“Our concern is that neither are firmly committed.”

Speaking at the Rail Industry Association conference some six weeks ago, on the 22 October, transport secretary Chris Grayling indicated that a decision would be made public imminently.

“You’re about to get feedback on that [MLPs], I was recently looking over the submissions and there are some good ones and some not so good ones,” said Grayling. “There are some very interesting ideas there that we want to follow through with and take forwards.”

Concerns about the process were first raised at a market sounding day in May, where prospective bidders were left frustrated when questions over how a company’s intellectual property would be dealt with were left unanswered.

In October, this was reinforced by the Institution of Civil Engineer’s State of the Nation report which said “market-led proposals in rail should be reformed in a way which simplifies applications and respects the sharing of intellectual property from all bidders”.

Three bidders are known to have submitted ideas into the southern access to Heathrow process. Heathrow Southern Rail, backed up by consultant Aecom, would enable trains to operate between Heathrow and Waterloo via Clapham Junction, Putney, Hounslow, Twickenham, Richmond, Staines and other intermediate stations. It also will connect Heathrow to Woking, Guildford and Basingstoke.

Meanwhile a Windsor Link Railway would be expected to link the Great Western and South Western franchise routes while connecting both to Heathrow.

In contrast to both of the heavy rail solutions proposed, Spelthorne Council submitted a £375M DLR-style scheme from Staines-Upon-Thames to the airport, with a new Staines station part of the proposal.

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