CHIEF EXECUTIVE of Britain’s Shadow Strategic Rail Authority Mike Grant announced on March 14 the six shortlisted bidders to negotiate for the first three replacement franchises. Both incumbents have been selected for the two London commuter franchises. Connex will be competing with Thameslink franchisee GOVIA for Network South Central, while Chiltern Railway operator M40 Trains takes on Go-Ahead which runs Thames Trains.

A decision on these two franchises is expected in ’late spring’. However, SSRA has warned that the awarding of a new InterCity East Coast franchise ’will take longer’ because of the complex infrastructure upgrading proposals put forward by Virgin/Stagecoach and the existing operator GNER (p217).

On March 8 Grant identified the three networks selected for the second round of negotiations. Prequalification was due by March 24 for Central Trains and South West Trains, plus a new Trans-Pennine Express franchise covering inter-urban services now being operated by Northern Spirit. Proposals for Central Trains envisage the creation of ’a separate business unit’ for the West Midlands suburban services, which could become a separate franchise. Bidders have ’an option to include or exclude’ services from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, Pwllheli and Chester, which may be incorporated into a potential Wales Rail franchise now being studied by SSRA.

SSRA sees capacity constraints at Waterloo posing ’a significant and growing obstacle’ to the development of services provided by SWT, and expects ’effective and cost-efficient plans’ to ease these constraints. Bidders will have the option to include or exclude diesel services from Waterloo to Salisbury, Exeter and Paignton, which could emerge as a ’micro-franchise’ or be grouped with services currently operated by Wales & West.