THE Government is expected to announce later today that it is to scrap the bidding process to select a new operator for the Great Western rail route, which serves Oxfordshire.

Bidders are set to be told that current operator First Great Western will be offered an extension to its contract to run trains between London Paddington, Didcot, Oxford, the Cotswolds, the West Country and South Wales, until a new contest can be organised.

The move comes just months after the scrapping of award of the West Coast rail franchise to First Group - the parent company of FGW - after protests from Virgin, which faced losing the right to run West Coast trains from London to the West Midlands, the North West and Scotland, led to the discovery of serious flaws in the way the Department for Transport (DfT) had assessed the competing bids.

Virgin was awarded a two-year extension to its West Coast operating agreement last month.

According to the Reuters news agency, the DfT tonight declined to comment on a report in the Daily Telegraph that it was about to halt the Great Western franchising process as well. FGW's current agreement expires at the end of March but had already been extended until July by the DFT after delays in the franchising process.

First Group was bidding for a new 15-year franchise deal in competition with Stagecoach, National Express and Arriva, a subsidiary of the German state rail company Deutsche Bahn, which runs Oxfordshire's two other train operators, Chiltern Railways and CrossCountry.

In a post on Twitter tonight, transport writer Christian Wolmar claimed that the four companies would not be compensated for the money they had spent on their Great Western bids.

  • In a report published today, MPs on the House of Commons transport select committee have condemned the DfT over its part in the collapse of the West Coast franchise award, which landed taxpayers with a £48m bill for compensation and other costs.

They said it had embarked on an "ambitious, perhaps unachievable" reform in the way it awarded franchises in haste, and claimed that ministers and senior officials were lied to.

Their report added that money which could have been spent on transport projects had instead gone to consultants, lawyers and review teams, on work which achieved nothing, and compensated train operators for the DfT's "incompetence".

A DfT spokesman said: "Following the collapse of the West Coast refranchising programme, the Department for Transport was subject to two independent inquiries and an internal HR investigation. These have now concluded but the disciplinary process is ongoing.

"Independent experts concluded the collapse of the West Coast franchise programme was caused by a number of failures, including inadequate planning and weak governance structure but not systematic failings in the Department. The examination of emails from key officials found no evidence that this was anything other than simple human error.

"We are putting in place measures that will prevent this embarrassing episode from happening again."