Rail company battles on for franchise

HAVING been dropped out of the running for the Greater Anglia franchise, First Great Eastern railways has launched a campaign to get itself back into the picture.

HAVING been dropped out of the running for the Greater Anglia franchise, First Great Eastern railways has launched a campaign to get itself back into the picture.

Bosses at First Great Eastern, which at present runs the commuter service from Ipswich through to London Liverpool Street, were left amazed after the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) refused to include them on the shortlist for the Greater Anglia rail franchise.

But First Group, which operates First Great Eastern, has not taken the news lying down.

In a bid to get customers behind them – and to sway the SRA – First Group have put up campaign posters at its major stations: Colchester, Chelmsford and Liverpool Street.

The large posters, which sprung up at the entrance to the platforms last week, invites customers to write to the SRA in support of First Great Eastern.

Peter Northfield, head of Corporate Affairs at First Great Eastern, said: "We have been amazed by the supportive response from our customers. In fact we put up the posters in response to customers saying that many others would also be supportive if they knew. We are now getting dozens of emails, telephone calls and letters protesting against the SRA's decision every day.

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"We will keep doing whatever we have to do to get on the shortlist. We are aiming to get the support of key stakeholders – local authorities, MPs, customer groups and customers.

"It might take days, it might take weeks, it might even take months, but we will continue to fight. If necessary we will seek a judicial review – but that would be the ultimate step.

One GER user who is hoping the SRA will change its mind is Derek Monnery, chairman of the Manningtree Rail Users Association, who has called on all his members to write to the SRA and to their MPs.

Mr Monnery said: "It does seem sad when the most reliable operator in the area has not been short-listed. They are the most reliable with few cancellations and no strikes. We have written to the SRA, but the reply just said that the decision has already been made."

But the SRA is unlikely to be swayed. It has already asked the three successful bidders – Arriva Trains Ltd, GB railways Plc and the National Express Group Plc - to submit their proposals by September.

A spokesman for the SRA said: "First Group are entitled to campaign in whatever way they see fit, but we will not change our decision. It is a commercial competition and First Group did not clear the hurdles. The only way we will change our decision is if a judge instructs us to."

The Greater Anglia franchise, which will take effect from April 2004, will combine the existing Anglia and Great Eastern franchises, as well as the West Anglia services running from Liverpool Street.

N What do you think? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk or visit the forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

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