NINE COMPANIES have prequalified for a contract to operate the first service through Milano’s Passante cross-city tunnel, which is due to open throughout on December 10 2006. Lombardia region announced on July 23 that it would issue the final invitation to tender shortly.

The nine-year contract covers the operation of a service linking Varese, Gallerate, Segrate and Piotello. Designated S5, it is one of nine routes in the new Lombardia regional rail network to be launched with the December timetable change this year.

Varese - Piotello services will be operated using a fleet of 15 new TSR regional trainsets being acquired by the region at a cost of €108m. Trains will run hourly from Varese and half-hourly from Gallerate every day of the year, with extra services at peak times. Connections will be provided at Piotello with trains to Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona. In the longer term, services could be extended to Treviglio following the completion of quadrupling works.

The route is the first in the region to be put out to competitive tender, and Lombardia has budgeted for a basic subsidy of €7·7m a year. The prequalified bidders include Trenitalia, Ferrovie Nord Milano and local metro operator ATM. According to the city council member for infrastructure and mobility, Massimo Cosaro, opening the rail network to competition is expected to drive up the quality of service.

Bids are due to be invited this month for two further concessions in the region. One covering Milano - Molteno - Lecco and Como - Lecco will also start in December 2006 and run for nine years. The other covers integrated rail and bus services be-tween Brescia, Iseo and Edolo; this will run for seven years from December 2005.