27/06/2003

Connex loses south east rail franchise

Connex Transport has lost its franchise to run rail services in the south east, the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) announced today.

Connex has been told that its franchise will be terminated no later than December 31 2003, after the SRA ruled that the company has failed to meet improvement targets – a requirement before the SRA could consider any increase in subsidy for the remaining two years of the contract, which runs out in 2006.

The SRA is now bringing forward the competition for a new 'Integrated Kent Franchise', incorporating south eastern services and the planned high-speed domestic services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

The competition for this franchise will be advertised shortly and the winning private-sector company is expected to take over within 12-18 months.

Rail services will be transfered to an interim management company to be known as South Eastern Trains, acting on behalf of the SRA, following the changeover.

The SRA has told Connex that all jobs at the company will be protected.

SRA Chairman, Richard Bowker, said: "It is business as usual for all passengers, and for the vast majority of Connex staff. This is a decision we have taken to protect taxpayers' money and passenger delivery.

"The railway is a public/private partnership. We expect strong competition for the new Integrated Kent Franchise, which we will shortly be putting out to tender and which will bring early improvements for passengers. In the meantime we expect to work constructively with Connex to ensure a smooth transition."

Responding to the SRA announcement, Connex said that it was "an unexpected decision".

The company added: "Whilst we acknowledge the SRA's decision, we strongly disagree with the reasons behind it. We are considering all our options."

Chief Executive Olivier Brousse said he was "shocked" at the news and paid tribute to staff members who "worked tirelessly to run this railway as best as they could".

He added: "I assure our passengers that we will work very hard, until the last minute, to run the best service we can.

"There is no doubt that our railway needs a dramatic shake-up and more funds. Despite the SRA's decision, I remain convinced that Connex could have been part of the solution for the future of the Kent railway."

(GMcG)

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