Bus companies travel by rail

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Bus companies have won the latest two rail franchises to be allocated as the privatisation process passes the half-way mark.

One of the winning bidders, headed by the Go-Ahead bus company, is even promising a new rail link to Heathrow Airport. Victory Railway Holdings, a consortium led by Go-Ahead, but with a 35 per cent management and employee stake, has won the right to run Thames Trains, which operates regional and suburban services out of Paddington.

Go-Ahead has an annual turnover of around pounds 190m, owning two bus companies in London and bus operations in the North-east, Brighton and Oxford. This is the first venture by the company into rail and involves passenger revenues of around pounds 65m.

Victory has plans to improve services and is considering building a new station between Hayes and West Drayton, to be called Heathrow North, which will serve the airport through a frequent bus link. This will be in addition to the Heathrow Express service from Paddington being built by airport operator BAA and due to open in 1998.

Heathrow North would be aimed primarily at staff living in Berkshire and west London getting to the airport.

Separately, Stagecoach, which controls South West Trains, has won the right to run services on the tiny Island line on the Isle of Wight.

There are eight stations on the eight-mile line which is operated by former London Underground trains. Stagecoach's victory is a blow to Southern Vectis, the company with a monopoly of services on the Isle of Wight and which also had bid for the line, the only one being franchised out as an integrated operation.