Leopards do change their spots.
FGW were put on the naughty step by SoS Ruth Kelly in 2008, coming very close to being stripped of the franchise for exceeding their franchise cancellation threshold and then falsifying the records of those cancellations.
FGW is a completely different beast now.
Indeed. And most of FGW's early performance issues stem from the way the franchise was specified in terms of the size of the West unit fleet. Having looked at that spec and and the fleet size that resulted the only change was the retention of 8 x 143 instead of 8 x 150/2, the 143's being of lower capacity and lower reliabilty than 150/2. Three of them were 'Franchise Assets' however and therefore didn't attract a leasing payment. Of course if you haven't got enough units then reliability and capacity suffers. The then MD of FGW being Alison Forster who seems to have walked FGW into that particular difficulty and who's name is now being mentioned in connection with NEx. Doesn't to be honest inspire any confidence to me that doesn't.
Same goes for National Express. They are no longer encumbered with the financial problems that Richard Bowker saddled them with following poor decisions made between 2006-2009. At that time NatEx Group's share price fell off a cliff and the Group came very close to being swallowed up by a rival - both First Group and Stagecoach were circling.
National Express are back from the brink.
Perhaps they should go and try being back from the brink somewhere else. Haven't really follwed their fortunes since they left the area in 2006 and havent actually missed the chicken wire and Isopon approach to unit body maintainance. NEx didn't do maintainance as such as nearly all the unit maintainance was done under contract by Arriva at Canton Car sheds, this seemingly being an expectation resulting from the split of Wales and West into two seperate buisness units. The only depot under their direct control being Exeter which is where demic units ex Canton were sent to be put right. The fleet suffered from this approach and from being diagrammed into the ground. First have taken all the maintainance in house except for coded under body and bodywork overhauls which are done under contract elsewhere, NEx's approach was just to ignore the body overhauls and apply more Vynil / filler where neccessary. It seems to have taken a lot of investment by First and the owning ROSCO's to put all of that right and the process continues with the units aquirred by FGW in order to get the fleet size back to the figures which ran at the end of Wessex Trains, the main difference is that more of the units actually work properly these days than did in March 2006. You can't help but wonder if NEx had won the day in 2005 whether the HST's would all still be running around with Valentas held together with Vynil rather than being repowered and refurbished First being the lead company in that particular project.
The main difficulty of course is the way the franchise is specified by the DfT and all bidders will be expected of course to put in compliant bids in order to be in with a chance of winning the bid. And the more mention of cost cutting and McNulty as you can fit into the bid document the better... Which is propably why we shall end up with Japanse Shinkansen five car Railbuses running around in the place of HST's whoever wins the greater western franchise. The services to the West of England are still being discussed but I'm quite sure NEx probably has some scheme for underfloor engined nastiness (Meridians dsplaced from a part electrified MML by IEP?) in place of the 15- 20 HST's First are proposing to refurbish and update for these services.