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Gatwick Express and Southern Franchises

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2007

On 17 April 2007, Official Report, column 6WS, I informed the House that the Gatwick Express franchise was to be ended and integrated into the existing Southern franchise, as part of the Department’s plans to increase capacity. The Department for Transport has now concluded negotiations with Southern on the implementation of these changes and I would like to take this opportunity to inform the House of the progress that has been made.

The Department has now given 12 months’ notice to National Express, operators of the existing Gatwick Express, and the franchise will end on 22 June 2008. From this date, the Gatwick Express will become part of the Southern franchise operated by Govia.

The House will be aware that the Gatwick Express is a premium-paying franchise, while the Southern franchise is subsidised by the Government. In amalgamating these two franchises, the Department has secured a financial agreement that is at least as favourable to the Government as the current arrangements. The new agreement also secures extra peak capacity into London and a new hourly direct service between Brighton and Southampton, which Southern will introduce in December 2007.

As announced in my previous statement to the House, these changes will include a new-style Gatwick Express service to begin operation in December 2008. The service will retain the current frequency, branding and non-stop service between Gatwick airport and London Victoria. However, at the busiest times of day the service will extend to Brighton. This will double the number of express trains between Brighton and London Victoria in the high peak.

The combined Southern franchise will now end three months earlier, in September 2009. This will ensure the winner of the franchise competition is in place before implementing major changes to their south London timetable in December 2009. This change will minimise the risk of disruption to passengers.