The Government has fired the starting gun on its £2bn train-franchising programme, asking operators to bid to run the Thameslink, Great Western and Essex Thameside routes for up to 15 years.
The Thameslink contract from Bedford to Luton via St Pancras is at present operated by FirstGroup, bringing in ticket sales of £1bn last year. The new contract – lasting only seven years because of upgrades on the line – will gradually take over some services now run by Go-Ahead.
The Great Western route from Paddington to Penzance is also run by First Group and last year brought in revenues of £679m. The new franchise will run for 15 years, with the contract starting in April 2013. The Essex Thameside line, known as c2c and run by National Express, which recorded sales of £118m last year, will also be a 15-year contract.
First Group was bullish about winning its contracts again. A spokesman said: "We have unrivalled expertise [and] look forward to building on our market-leading position in UK railways. We intend to bid for the Great Western and Thameslink franchises as well as progress new opportunities as the DfT's franchising programme gets under way."