Commenting on today’s delayed Great Western rail franchise announcement, the MP for Penzance and West Cornwall, Andrew George, said that companies tendering for the service could still include an option for reducing Penzance to London through trains as part of their bid. However, he added that both he and other campaigners had more time now to turn up the pressure on Government Ministers and potential operators not to cut through services.
In her letter to Mr George, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers explained, “following recent representations from MPs for Cornwall and Cornwall Council, while we have set the absolute minimum number of through services at six, we have included a further priced option in the ITT for the continuation of the nine through services”. Those Companies likely to bid for the franchise (which it is understood will include current operator of the service, First) will tender for the 15 year franchise by the deadline of October 2012. They will also be invited to bid for a service which may include only 6 rather than the present 9 Penzance – London trains.
Mr George said:
“This is a step forward from where we were last week. But it is still not the clear victory Cornwall needs. We have everything to play for now. We must keep up the pressure until at least the tender deadline of October 2012.
“If the Government accepts a franchise specification which includes only a baseline service of 6 InterCity services from Penzance then they will be suggesting that Cornwall can become a branch line and have services cut to help fund expensive upgrades and electrification almost everywhere else. This would be bad news for business, passengers and the tourist industry.”
Nevertheless, Mr George welcomed the Minister’s acknowledgement that passenger numbers had increased more in Cornwall than the UK as a whole and that she supported the aspiration to increase overall local service regularity and would protect the branch lines, including the St Ives line on which she joined Mr George on a journey only three months ago.
Mr George sent his message to the press while travelling from London to Penzance on a Great Western InterCity!