Hong Kong firm joins GNER in Kent rail bid

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The Independent Online

The company that operates the Hong Kong metro, one of the most punctual railways in the world, is bidding to take over the running of high-speed commuter train services in the South-east of England.

MTR Corporation announced yesterday that it has joined forces with GNER, the operator of the east coast mainline, to tender for the new Integrated Kent rail franchise which the Government plans to award next year.

Hong Kong's Mass Transit System has a punctuality record of 99.9 per cent and graffiti and vandalism on the network are virtually unheard of, so taking on a UK commuter franchise may come as a culture shock to MTR.

Phil Gaffney, MTR's managing director, said, however, that senior staff had spent the past six months travelling regularly on Kent commuter services into London to acclimatise themselves. He said MTR would also be interested in bidding for the Thameslink and Silverlink franchises.

MTR, one of Hong Kong's biggest companies with a market capitalisation of £4bn, will take a 29 per cent stake in the joint venture with GNER holding the remaining 71 per cent.

The backbone of the new Integrated Kent franchise will be the old South Eastern Trains business which the French group Connex was stripped of last year for poor performance. As well commuter services into Charing Cross and London Bridge stations, the successful bidder will also run new high-speed domestic services from Kent to St Pancras on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from 2008-09 onwards.

Hong Kong's metro system is only 25 years old and its trains travel an average of 100,000 miles between breakdowns. Apart from the creaking nature of Britain's antiquated railways, the other difference MTR will see is that responsibility for trains and track is separated.

Mr Gaffney said some key people would be brought over from Hong Kong if the GNER/MTR bid was successful. The other bidders are First Group and a joint venture between Stagecoach and Danish State Railways.