Birmingham-based National Express has been revealed as one of the four runners in the race for a major franchise deal to run South-East rail services.
The company joins, Stagecoach, Govia – a joint venture between Go-Ahead and Keolis – and NedRailways to contest the new South Central franchise, the Department for Transport said.
The new deal will include the existing Southern franchise and Gatwick Express services, as well as the Tonbridge to Redhill route currently under the Southeastern franchise. Govia is the current operator of Southern services.
National Express’s rail franchises include the East Coast and East Anglia deals, while Perth-based Stagecoach runs East Midlands and South West routes.
Dutch firm NedRailways runs MerseyRail and Northern services in tandem with UK-based Serco, while Govia also runs Southeastern and London Midland trains alongside the Southern franchise.
In 2006/07, Gatwick Express and Southern combined collected over £400 million in revenue and accounted for over 140 million passenger journeys, but a DfT consultation on the new franchise said overcrowding remains a problem on peak-time trains.
The eventual winner of the South Central deal will operate trains in south London and parts of Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire – and have to help increase capacity by around 10 per cent overall.
Other planned improvements include the introduction of Oyster-style smartcards throughout the franchise area, safer stations, later running services, as well as better reliability and environmental performance.
Rail minister Tom Harris said: “We look forward to seeing strong bids from each of the competitors for this important franchise. We want passengers across the franchise area to see improvements.”
The winning bidder must also help bring about major upgrades such as the extended East London Line from 2010, as well as the £5.5 billion Thameslink improvements, which was given the go-ahead in July last year.
Both schemes will give a significant boost to capacity in and through London when up and running.
The four bidders will receive formal invitations to tender in the autumn.
The successful firm is expected to be announced in early summer 2009