Commuter misery eased with £856m train order

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Commuters on one of the country's most over-crowded rail routes were promised some relief from their misery yesterday after South Central Trains placed the biggest order for UK-built rolling stock since privatisation.

Commuters on one of the country's most over-crowded rail routes were promised some relief from their misery yesterday after South Central Trains placed the biggest order for UK-built rolling stock since privatisation.

South Central's parent company Govia, a joint venture between Go Ahead Group and the French railway SNCF, has ordered a total of 700 new carriages costing £856m.

The trains will be built at the Derby factory of the Canadian transportation company Bombardier and will start to enter service this summer on routes from the south coast into London's Victoria station.

Six hundred of the new carriages will be used to replace South Central's ageing fleet of Mark 1 slam-door carriages by November 2004 but the remaining 100 will be used to lengthen existing trains to help reduce overcrowding.

The order is being financed by Porterbrook, the rolling stock leasing company owned by Abbey National. The four-carriage trains will seat 266 passengers in an "airline style" configuration. They are capable of speeds of up to 100mph and will be equipped with disabled toilets and space for wheelchairs and bicycles. South Central also said it was looking at the possibility of introducing first or club-class carriages on some routes.

John Spellar, the Minister for Transport, said the order would improve services for South Central's "long-suffering passengers" as well as bringing work to UK manufacturers.

Govia took over the South Central franchise from Connex last August and is in the process of negotiating a new 20-year contract with the Strategic Rail Authority. The SRA and Govia hope to sign an agreement by September although the negotiations have been complicated by the decision to put Railtrack into administration.

Railtrack, along with Govia and the construction company Bechtel, will be a partner in a "special purpose vehicle" company being formed to upgrade the line.

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