ON OCTOBER 20 the UK Strategic Rail Authority confirmed that it had signed a 15-year franchise agreement with Arriva Trains Ltd to operate the Wales &Borders franchise, giving Wales ’a unified railway under a single operational management structure’. Arriva will take over from National Express Group on December 7.

On October 9 SRA Chairman Richard Bowker announced that NEG had been awarded a two-year extension of its Central Trains franchise until March 31 2006, pending development of a future strategy for the East and West Midlands. Subsidy payments will increase from £110m in 2002-03 to £236m in the final year of the extension, and NEG has agreed to invest £5m in customer services and train cleaning.

On September 24 SRA signed a formal contract with FirstGroup and Keolis for the eight-year TransPennine Express franchise, covering regional inter-city services in the north of England (RG 9.03 p554). This in turn enabled FGK to confirm a £350m contract with Siemens for supply and maintenance of 56 three-car Desiro UK DMUs to enter service from early 2006.

The remaining local services in the north of England, currently operated by First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern, will be repackaged as a new Northern franchise from the autumn of 2004. On September 30 SRA confirmed that four prequalified consortia had submitted their final bids for Northern: Arriva, Serco/NS, FirstGroup and Eurailco (Transdev plc and RATP Développement). A preferred bidder is to be announced next spring.