Commuters to get new trains

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Kent commuters travelling on some of the oldest trains on the rail network were promised new trains within three years under the terms of a franchise put on the market yesterday by Roger Salmon, the franchising director.

The successful bidder for the franchise for South Eastern Trains will be required to provide new rolling stock, according to Mr Salmon, who said: "I am inviting bids on the basis of a 15-year franchise, which requires replacement within three years of South Eastern's slam-door rolling stock." Normally franchises are for seven years which does not allow sufficient time for bidders to buy new trains.

The existing trains, some of which date back to 1957, are likely to reach the end of the line by 1999. The franchise is expected to be awarded by the end of the summer. Opponents of privatisation, point out that British Rail would have bought new trains for the line by now but was prevented from doing so by the privatisation process.

Network South East was to have received 100 new Networker trains between 1995 and 1997, many of which would have been for South Eastern, but the order was not proceeded with because of uncertainty over privatisation. Jonathan Bray, co-ordinator of the Save Our Railways campaign, said: "The whole plant at ABB York [now Adtranz] has now been closed down because of the failure to proceed with the order. It is unclear who will now be able to build these trains."

The line runs from London's Charing Cross, Victoria and Cannon Street stations to destinations including Hastings, Ashford, Folkestone, Dover and Margate.

Mr Bray said the trains would have had to be replaced anyway and that commuters on South West Trains and Network SouthCentral - which also needed new trains - were not getting any new fleets but those franchises "were not issued just before a key Commons debate".

A Kent MP, Sir Keith Speed, has been one of the Tory waverers over rail privatisation partly because of the delay over replacing the old rolling stock.