Anger as Govia wins Kent rail bid

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Rail passenger groups reacted angrily yesterday after the Government announced big fare increases for Kent commuters following the award of a new train franchise to a consortium including the state-owned French rail company SNCF.

Govia, which is 65 per cent-owned by Go-Ahead in partnership with the SNCF subsidiary Keolis, will receive £585m in subsidies to run the new Integrated Kent line for the next eight years.

Anthony Smith, the chief executive of the Rail Passengers Council, described the announcement that fares would rise by 3 per cent above inflation from January 2007 to help pay for investments including a £250m fleet of new Hitachi high-speed trains, as the "sting in the tail".

The Liberal Democrats also criticised the decision to award the new franchise to a private operator. The franchise, currently known as South Eastern Trains, was removed from another French operator, Connex, two years ago and run by the Government's Strategic Rail Authority.

Govia takes over the franchise next April and will also start high-speed commuter services into St Pancras station from 2009 on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It will receive subsidy payments in the first seven years but pay a premium in the final year.

Go-Ahead said it expected annual revenues to start at £560m a year and grow by 4 per cent a year. If revenues exceed its forecast by between 2 and 6 per cent, the Government will receive 40 per cent of the surplus. If it is more than 6 per cent, the taxpayer gets 80 per cent of the excess.