ON JANUARY 18 Connex Rail unveiled its ’vision’ for an extended 20-year South Central franchise, comprising £1bn of investment in rolling stock, stations and infrastructure to deliver a ’complete step change’ in the quality of its services. Local authorities in southern England and other stakeholders are being consulted over the proposals, which will form the basis of the Connex submission to the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority. SSRA also has prequalified Stagecoach (incumbent at South West Trains) and GOVIA (Thameslink) for the South Central franchise, and expects to choose a winner in the spring so that operations can begin in the second half of 2000.

The £400m package of infrastructure enhancements being discussed with Railtrack includes work to tackle bottlenecks on the core London - Brighton route. This is also to be relieved by upgrading the route to Littlehampton via Dorking and Horsham, as well as reopening the Lewes - Uckfield and Eridge - Tunbridge Wells lines, double-tracking and electrification to provide a new 160 km/h main line for services from London to Eastbourne. Electrification of the Ashford - Hastings line and upgrading of the Brighton - Portsmouth route are also proposed.

Chairman & Chief Executive Antoine Hurel said Connex would join Railtrack and/or another investor to undertake the projects on a build-lease-transfer basis. For its suburban network, Connex proposes track and signalling enhancements, turnbacks, grade separation and more cross-city services via Thameslink and the East and West London lines to relieve existing termini. Under a £500m rolling stock spend, Class 455 and 456 EMUs may be refurbished or replaced, and all slam-door stock would be replaced by 2004. n