Rail franchises – what benefits?

Okay, so the rail franchises offered by the government aren’t what most of us would recognise as a franchise.

In fact, most franchisors offer what is known as a Business Format Franchise.  In other words, they develop a format for running a business and sell that format to their franchisees, who follow the format to the letter (mostly) and enjoy the benefits of doing it; usually financial reward.

The rail franchises and the Training Operating Companies (TOCs) are a bit different in that the TOC tells the government how they are going to run their business, what benefits passengers are going to enjoy and how they’re going to pay the government for the pleasure of running the business.

Of course, the process of bidding for the franchise and how it’s awarded has been in the news a fair bit recently with the highly publicised battle between Virgin and First Group.

As a side discussion, does anyone else wonder what Richard Branson has done to upset the government (except to remind them that he would be better at running the country than any politician)?  After all he lost the Lottery bid, when his bid was better, he lost the other rail franchise Virgin owned (and the business that took it over had to hand back the keys after a disastrous tenure) and now he’s almost lost the second rail franchise.

Anyway that’s by the by.  I was running a course in Norwich and staying with my parents in Oulton Broad (that’s the posh end of Lowestoft).  I was going out for a drink with a mate one night so took the train over on The Wherry Line – operated by the Greater Anglia franchise.

Interestingly, when I left school in 1986 I used to live in Oulton Broad and get the train to my job in Norwich on the same line.  In the intervening 26 years you’d expect to see massive improvements wouldn’t you?

Which year am I describing here, 1986 or 2012?:

The train was over crowded, dirty and more than little smelly.  The ticket operative was a bit grumpy and there were what seemed like hundreds of school children pretty much running riot.

I had to stand and even if I hadn’t the train rattled and swayed its way across the Waveney Valley in a most uncomfortable way.

To give them their due, though, the train was on time.

Which year?

Nope, you’re quite wrong.  It was both of them.  The only discernible difference was the price.  I seem to remember it £3.50 in 1986 and is now £9.90.

So where’s the progress?  What are the benefits of selling a rail franchise for the people who really matter – the travelling public?

I’m sure there are some… I’m just not quite sure what they are.

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