by Phil Marsh

FirstGroup faces challenges rival ScotRail bidders

Published: 20th August 2013

Forth Bridge to become World Heritage Site?

FirstGroup, the current operator of ScotRail, is expected to face strong competition for the new franchise that is to be let by Transport Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Rival bidders are understood to be keen to try and win the contract to operate 95 per cent of Scotland’s passenger trains.

It is regarded as significant that Mary Grant, who headed the successful FirstGroup bid for ScotRail in 2004, has been appointed to a senior position with National Express, the group that ran the original ScotRail franchise between 1997 and 2004.

Initially her interests with National Express are concentrating on continental Europe but are likely to add the UK in general and Scotland in particular next year, once she is clear of contractual time constraints on UK business activities following her departure from FirstGroup.

The Dutch group Abellio is also expected to be among those lining up strong bids for ScotRail.

Huge geographical franchise area

The franchise area covers routes ranging between Carlisle and Thurso, including a mix of regional, inter-urban and commuter services. Overnight Caledonian Sleeper services between Scotland and London are to be let in a separate franchise, although they are currently part of ScotRail.

Transport Scotland invited expressions of interest for the main ScotRail franchise in the summer of 2013. The Invitation To Tender is to be issued in winter 2013, with bidders to submit their responses in the spring of 2014.

The successful bidder is to be announced in the autumn of 2014 with the new franchise starting in April 2015. It is likely to operate for a maximum of ten years, although the separate Caledonian Sleeper franchise will run for 15 years.

They said:

Transport Scotland says: “The new [ScotRail] franchise will also be key in supporting the introduction of network enhancements such as the Border Railway, Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Project, the Aberdeen to Inverness line upgrade and further route electrification, which will require a role in the introduction of new electric rolling stock and cascade management of the displaced diesel trains.”

Mary Grant had worked with National Express in the UK and Australia in the 1990s before moving to FirstGroup. She was CEO of Phones 4U before rejoining National Express in July 2013 as Managing Director, Business Development.

Although National Express handed back the keys early for the East Coast franchise, the group has since worked to reinstate its reputation as a rail operator.

World Heritage site application for Forth Bridge

The world famous Forth Bridge is the subject of a nomination to become a World Heritage Site and inclusion on the World Heritage List. The project will put together the application following a consultation just ended and will be submitted to UNESCO early in 2014.

They will assess the contents expected to take 18 months and the decision by UNESCO should be made by 2015 as to whether the Forth Bridge becomes a World Heritage Site is expected in 2015.

Vital Victorian legacy to be recognised?

The Forth Bridge is perhaps the epitome of Victorian engineering and was the first huge steel bridge and many suggest it has never been surpassed. It was opened in 1890 and could then boast it had the longest and the second longest spans in the world.

It is perfectly balanced and also coined a famous phrase “like painting the Forth Bridge” indicating a never ending task. This is now redundant following a major renovation by Network Rail and is internationally recognised while still carrying out its primary function, carrying a busy railway line.

The nearest railway stations to the bridge are North Queensferry and Dalmeny with trains from Edinburgh. The bridge is best viewed from the shore at North or South Queensferry and there are also boat trips available as well.

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