First Group trounced by National Express in Anglia franchise battle

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The Independent Online

The transport group National Express increased its grip on the rail industry yesterday when it won the bidding war for the new Greater Anglia franchise.

The number of train operating licences held by the company - already the biggest in the industry - will increase from eight to nine as a consequence of the decision by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

National Express, led by its chief executive, Phil White, beat First Group to become the "preferred bidder" for the franchise, the first to be awarded under a new SRA policy to ensure that services from each London terminal are run by a single operator. The new franchise - a combination of three smaller ones - includes inter-city, commuter and local services between London, Cambridge and Norwich. The licence will run for seven years with an option to extend it to 10 years.

The decision means that National Express will run all the commuter franchises to the north of London apart from Thameslink during the next couple of years, provided that it is successful in its bids to extend its Great Northern and Silverlink licences.

It also runs London-Southend operator C2C, Midland Mainline, Gatwick Express, Scotrail, Wessex Trains and Central Trains.

The SRA said the new franchise would bring better passenger information, security and cleanliness, station improvements and punctuality.

But a spokesman confirmed that the deal would not include new trains to replace old carriages and locomotives on the London-Norwich route. The SRA spokesman declined to give further details, such as investment levels.

First Group, which currently holds the Great Eastern licence - part of the enlarged area - sought a judicial review of the bidding process in April after it was excluded for failing to submit a detailed application. After dropping its legal threat, the company bought GB Railways - which also ran services in the region as Anglia Railways - in order to re-enter the process. Yesterday the ploy failed as National Express won the day.

First Group said yesterday it was "extremely disappointed" by its failure to win Greater Anglia. Passenger groups also expressed concern, because of First's high reputation as holder of the Great Eastern franchise, which runs services from London Liverpool Street to Colchester.

However, First recently won the Transpennine Express licence with Keolis and a two-year extension and enlargement of its Great Western operation.

Moir Lockhead, the chief executive, said: "We have now won two out of the three most recent franchises we have been bidding for. However, we're extremely sorry that we've not been awarded the new Greater Anglia franchise, especially as First Great Eastern and Anglia Railways have established an excellent record for customer service, performance and service development.

The SRA said Danish State Railways (DSB) is one of four bidders short-listed to run the new integrated Kent franchise.

Other successful bidders include Great North Eastern Railway, which operates from London King's Cross to Scotland, First Group and London South Eastern Railway, which comprises the transport group Go-Ahead and Keolis of France.

Although other overseas operators such as Dutch Railways and Keolis have already succeeded in securing UK franchises, it will be the first time that DSB has made a bid.

The new operator will run services currently run by the SRA through its South Eastern Trains division, which took over from former operator Connex after termination of its franchise.

It will also run domestic services on the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link, using new high-speed trains currently being ordered.

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