VICTORIA’s state government announced in mid-April that the deadline for bids to operate Melbourne’s suburban rail and tram routes would be extended to the end of May. Several bidders had asked for more time to assess the implications of the government’s requirements for extra rolling stock investment on the viability of the seven-year franchises.

The government envisages purchase of 75 six-car EMUs for the two suburban franchises, 30 two-car DMUs for V/Line country passenger services, and up to 200 articulated low-floor trams, at a total cost of A$1·2bn. In addition, the existing fleets must be refurbished.

The additional requirements have led to British train operator Prism pulling out of the race altogether, and French bus operator Transdev bidding for only one tram franchise. Other groups expressing interest include GB Railways, a grouping of Alstom and local operator West Coast Rail, National Express with ABB, Serco, and Rail America, which wants to add V/Line Passenger to the V/Line freight concession it has already won.