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South Central Franchise and Accreditation Process

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 22 May 2008

I am today announcing the publication of the consultation document for the South Central franchise. The formal accreditation process for bidders also starts today.

Our overall aim for the new franchise is to ensure that continued improvement is maintained, while renewed emphasis is placed on improving the overall quality of the service offered to passengers.

The new franchise will begin operation on Sunday 20 September 2009 and will cover the operations of Southern and Gatwick Express and the Tonbridge to Redhill route operated by Southeastern. The franchise will last for five years and ten months, with the final year dependent on performance. It will be possible for the franchise to be extended by up to two years, at the Department for Transport’s discretion. The franchise is shorter than we would usually propose reflecting the major changes envisaged around 2015 when the Thameslink programme is complete. This approach gives the Government maximum flexibility when implementing the final Thameslink pattern of services.

We have previously announced significant changes to services on the Brighton main line. These changes, which occur in December, will see some peak period Gatwick Express services extended to Brighton, increasing carrying capacity to and from the South Coast. The new franchise will start with this timetable as its base.

The consultation document sets out the main challenges that the new franchise will face and highlights the key requirements that the Department proposes to include within the invitation to tender. The document includes details of likely service alterations to facilitate the delivery of a number of major infrastructure enhancements including the East London line extension, Thameslink programme and 10 car suburban rail network. It also sets out proposals to increase off peak services levels and improve security, access to stations, information provision and overall service quality.

Responses to the consultation will inform the development of the invitation to tender (ITT) that bidders for each franchise will be asked to bid against. We expect to publish the ITT later this year and will award the new franchise early next summer.

Last year’s White Paper set out a challenging programme to improve our rail network, by increasing carrying capacity, improving reliability, enhancing stations, simplifying ticketing and improving service quality. This outline franchise specification builds on this. Over the coming weeks the Department will be having extensive discussions with local interested stakeholders.

The consultation will run until the 14 August 2008. Copies of the consultation documents have been placed in the House Library, are available on the Department for Transport website at: www.dft.gov.uk and will be sent to key stakeholders.