3 September 2012: It seems highly unlikely that the 150,000 Virgin rail users who have signed the petition - and shown unprecedented loyalty to a rail franchise-get their happy ending. In spite of the fact that the contract has not been signed yet, the Department for Transport says that the decision was absolutely the right one for taxpayers and passengers.
But the public debate about franchises is now open. The questions about how the franchise system works and for who is currently working - I mean, benefiting the most- cannot be ignored. However, this debate should be preceded by a fundamental clarification, which paradoxically seems grotesquely obvious; what is the railway for?
The railway is not here for BransonS and O' TooleS; nor is it here to make cost reductions that can return more money to the Government.
As a form of public transport the railway is here to meet the needs of passengers. It is here to allow people access to services, employment and amenities. The railway is here to guarantee connectivity and to unlocked our cities; It is here to reduce traffic noise, pollution and congestion. And in an era of climate change such as this one, the railway is here to shift people from cars, lorries and aviation while delivering cuts in carbon emissions.
In order to raise the standards of rail franchise, performance level and passenger satisfaction should be key. And franchise bidders should be required to set targets for cancellations, late running, capacity and rolling stock and station cleanliness.
Rail franchises should be about improving the service on offer and attracting more people to take the train. And it is the Government 's responsibility to make the railways affordable and accessible, for everyone.
Let 's re-frame the rail franchise debate. It is not about one or the other. It is about quality over cost.