The chief executive of the Association of Train Companies (ATOC) in the UK has hit back at a report from the Transport Select Committee, which labelled rail franchising as “a mess” and called for fundamental reforms.

The report published by parliament on 27 July 2009 criticised fare increases of up to 11% by franchises on some routes as unacceptable while inflation remains close to zero.

Chief executive Michael Roberts said that it is wrong to describe as “a mess” a franchising system that successfully runs over 20,000 services a day at record levels of performance and passenger satisfaction.

“Current economic conditions are difficult but rail demand has remained relatively resilient. This suggests that customers are finding the many good-value fares that exist and are voting for the railways with their feet,” Roberts said.

“ATOC has worked closely with Passenger Focus to simplify the fares available and over 80% of passengers travel on some form of discounted ticket.”

In the report Transport Select Committee chairman Louise Ellman said that there was no point involving the private sector if companies could cream off the profits.

“We support the Secretary of State’s decision to take back responsibility for the East Coast Main Line franchise but the failure of two major contracts in three years is evidence of serious underlying problems with the current franchising model,” Ellman said.

“The government must continue to hold firm on its commitment not to renegotiate franchising contracts.”

The committee has called on government to attempt different forms of franchising, using the East Coast Main Line franchise to provide a benchmark. The committee believes that longer franchise contracts will remove incentives to short-term cost cutting and recommends that more passenger-focused approach be adopted.

The report also concludes that fare structures remain too complex as does information and access to the complete range of fares.

ATOC, however, did agree that the current approach to franchising could still be improved and stated that they would encourage longer franchises with better risk sharing between operators and the government as well as the principle of making franchises more passenger-focused.

By Daniel Garrun.