THE GOVIA consortium of Go-Ahead and Keolis (formerly VIA-Cariane) took control of Britain’s Network South Central franchise on August 26, after Industry & Energy Minister Brian Wilson decided not to refer the deal to the Competition Commission. GOVIA already operates the Thameslink franchise which competes with South Central on the London - Brighton route.

Last year, the Strategic Rail Authority selected GOVIA as preferred bidder for the replacement South Central franchise; the existing contract with Connex Rail was due to expire in May 2003. GOVIA subsequently agreed terms to buy out the remainder of the original franchise from Connex, although it does not now expect to sign the replacement franchise agreement with SRA before mid-2002.

GOVIA has formed a new subsidiary, South Central Ltd, to take over the staff and assets. The operation is due to be relaunched as New Southern Railway when the 20-year replacement franchise and associated infrastructure improvements have been agreed. SCL Managing Director David Franks said that in the short term ’the most important focus will be the improvement of performance’, together with work to improve ’the cleanliness of the existing trains and stations’.

GOVIA plans to lease around 700 new EMU vehicles worth £560m to replace the South Central MkI slam-door fleet by December 2004. Some of the Adtranz Class 375 Electrostars ordered by Connex have been transferred with the franchise, and GOVIA has reached agreement for these to be financed by Porterbrook Leasing.