By Dr Luke Butler, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).
Since privatisation, passenger rail has fallen victim to a complex web of institutional and contractual relations, a matrix of network owners, service providers, regulators and oversight bodies with ever-changing remits. At the risk of oversimplification, rail provision involves the formal separation of Network Rail’s management of the infrastructure (the track etc) from the operation by Train Operating Companies (“TOCs”) of rail services on that infrastructure. The Department for Transport (“DfT”) opens the operation of rail services up to competition through a procurement process and invites qualified TOCs to bid, although some rail franchises may be directly awarded without competition. In turn, TOCs pay to access the network and lease rolling stock. All involve multiple contracts sharing subsidies, premiums and risks.
Post-privatisation, it was predicated that the contractualisation of rail would lead to “government by lawyers”. Yet, I have always been surprised at the relatively limited engagement of legal research on UK rail since. This blog seeks to renew conversation by arguing that there is a high degree of legal and practical uncertainty in the route to effective franchise procurement and which has not been significantly improved by recent reforms. (more…)