Govia wins rail franchise

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The Independent Online

Transport company Govia has won the contract to run a new Kent rail franchise which includes routes which have been run in the public sector by South Eastern Trains, the Government announced today.

Govia won a four-consortium race to operate the Integrated Kent Franchise (IKF) which will start from April 1 next year.

From 2009, Govia will run high-speed commuter trains on a section of the franchise which will use the Channel Tunnel rail link.

Govia is a joint venture between the Go-Ahead company and French-based transport company Keolis.

The new franchise will be for eight years, with the final two years dependent on service performance. The total subsidy for IKF is £585 million over eight years.

The franchise area covers routes already operated by South Eastern Trains where the previous franchise holder - Connex - was sacked by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) in 2003.

The SRA took over responsibility for the route - effectively meaning that within a privatised railway there was one franchise that was being operated in the public sector.

The Department for Transport said today that the franchise area, which covers Kent, parts of East Sussex and parts of south east London, had already benefited from almost £700 million in investment on new rolling stock and improved infrastructure. £250 million will be invested on new high speed trains for CTRL.

The department said: "Given investment in the region, the new operator will increase fares by 3% above inflation from January 2007 for five years to ensure there is a fair balance in cost between the taxpayer and fare-paying passenger."

Govia, which already operates the Thameslink and Southern franchises, has committed to:

* Invest around £76 million in passenger and staff facilities;

* Oversee the construction of two depots in East Kent to maintain the new and existing fleets of trains;

* Improve performance with all-day trains-on-time targets of 91.6% by March 2010 and 93.74% by March 2014;

* Improve services, including a strengthened half-hourly service from Beckenham Junction to Victoria, an additional peak service between Faversham and Cannon Street, two additional peak trains between Ashford and Charing Cross and some extra mid-evening and late evening trains to suburban and Kent destinations from London;

* Run services to Dover if safety concerns at the Shakespeare Tunnel can be overcome.

From 2009, Go-Ahead will run Hitachi-built high-speed trains on the line. A total of 28 of the six-carriage trains are likely to be introduced.

The Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said today: "I am satisfied that the competition for the franchise has resulted in a contract that represents very good value for taxpayers.

"It is a tough contract that Govia will be expected to deliver on. It will help support the new housing and economic opportunities in the Thames Gateway area and region beyond."

Go-Ahead group chief executive Chris Moyes said: "We are delighted to have reached agreement with the Department for Transport on the Integrated Kent Franchise, one of the largest commuter rail franchises.

"It fits perfectly with our focused strategy to provide passenger transport management services in the UK and the addition of IKF will endorse us as a pre-eminent operator of commuter rail services in south east England.

"We submitted a robust and competitive bid and are confident that real benefits will be delivered for passengers in terms of improved services, punctuality and reliability."

The consortia that were beaten in the IKF franchise battle were South Eastern Railways (a joint venture between Denmark's DSB International and Stagecoach), Great South Eastern Railway (a joint venture between MTR Corporation and East Coast Main Line operators GNER) and First Kent Integrated Railways run by giant transport company FirstGroup.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Darling conceded that Go-Ahead's performance on the Thameslink route, from Bedford to Brighton via central London, had been harshly criticised.

Mr Darling said: "They (Go-Ahead) also run the Southern franchise out of Victoria station and performance there has been steadily improving.

"When we looked at the four consortia that wanted to run this franchise, we looked at their ability and past performance right across the piece.

"Yes, there have been problems on Thameslink, and that is due to a variety of things. I am confident they will be able to run the Kent franchise."

Mr Darling said: "What we are trying to do across the piece is make sure that we improve the quality of rail services.

"That's why we are likely to be carrying more passengers this year than in any year since the Second World War. Britain's railways are improving."

The Rail Passengers Council (RPC) chief executive Anthony Smith said: "South Eastern Trains has made some big improvements, particularly on getting more trains running on time, so the benchmark for Govia is already set quite high.

"We welcome the commitment to invest £76 million in passenger and staff facilities, improve performance and run more trains but there is a sting in the tail with fare rises of 3% above inflation.

"Govia will have to work very hard to deliver services that passengers feel represent better value for money. We will work closely with Govia to get the best deal for passengers."

The RPC also welcomed the Department for Transport's announcement to defer a decision about reduced ticket office opening hours at stations until Govia takes over next year.

Mr Smith added: "Changing ticket office opening hours is something which needs careful consideration and we will work alongside Govia to ensure that whatever arrangements are put in place benefit passengers and make it easier, not harder, to buy tickets, ask advice and seek assistance."

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