Overcrowded train line refuses to add any extra carriages

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A TRAIN company with one of the worst punctuality records sparked an outcry yesterday when it said it could not justify investing more money to relieve overcrowding.

Connex said it wanted to add two carriages to trains on its two southern England franchises, but said there was "no commercial case" for it to invest in upgrading the track to cater for the longer trains.

It hinted that the only way for it to do this would be through "approval and support" -- if the Government agreed to extend its franchise, thereby enabling it to recoup the investment, or paid for the work. Connex said it would cost pounds 20m-pounds 30m to upgrade the track on its SouthEastern franchise, serving Kent and parts of Sussex, to allow it to run 12-car trains.

It has not costed the improvements needed to run 10-car trains on its SouthCentral franchise in Sussex and Surrey although it is likely this would be more expensive. A spokesman said: "It would be difficult to justify the investment purely on commercial grounds but it would give an enormous capacity increase. There are other benefits such as meeting the anticipated rise in peak demand."

Sir Alan Greengross, chairman of the London Regional Passengers Committee, said: "There is very little that most of the operators are doing that gives us enough confidence that they should get to carry on for another five years.

"Most passengers are appalled that anyone could get a new contract when they want the present contracts taken away from them. Passengers will find this totally inexplicable." SouthEastern was given a D grade for running 16 per cent of its trains late in 1998 and SouthCentral a C, where 10 per cent ran late.

It has a 15-year franchise on SouthEastern and has already had a bid to extend its seven-year SouthCentral contract rejected. Connex is understood to be furious with the new grading system, which takes no account of the fact that it runs the most intensively used railway in Europe.

It believes it has delivered lower fares, more train services and an increase in passengers - all at a time when its taxpayer subsidy is falling. Great North Eastern Railway sparked a similar row when it said it would buy 10 new trains in exchange for an extension. Its chief executive Chris Garnett also angered Virgin by saying GNER should have its franchise extended to show other operators how to run a proper railway. It said it deserved to have its seven-year franchise extended.