ON MAY 12 the UK Strategic Rail Authority signed its second replacement franchise, under which the Govia joint venture of Go-Ahead and Keolis will operate the South Central network for up to seven years. The operation was due to be rebranded as Southern Railway when the franchise took effect on May 25. The joint venture also runs the Thameslink franchise which shares the London - Brighton corridor with South Central. SRA may terminate the new contract at any point between May 2008 and December 2009, to facilitate the award of a combined franchise.

SRA Chairman Richard Bowker and Govia Chief Executive, Rail, Keith Ludeman claimed the deal would secure more than £1bn of investment, although £856m of this had been committed by March 2002. Govia has agreed to lease 700 Bombardier Electrostar EMU cars from Porterbrook to replace all of South Central’s MkI EMUs. A £50m contract signed on May 12 with Porterbrook and Bombardier will provide 42 Class 170 Turbostar DMU cars to operate London Bridge - Uckfield services from 2004, and Brighton - Ashford from 2005.

Another £20m is to be spent on refurbishing Class 455 inner-suburban EMUs, and £115m will go on upgrading the rolling stock depots at Selhurst, Streatham Hill, Bognor Regis, Brighton, Littlehampton and Eastbourne.

If the franchise runs the full term, Govia will get £670m in subsidy payments, an average of £96m a year. According to SRA’s Annual Report, South Central received ’basic payments’ of £19·4m in 2001-02.