THE UK Department for Transport has awarded three more replacement franchises which will start on April 1. They cover three London commuter networks plus long-distance services to the west of England and South Wales.

On November 30 DfT confirmed that the Govia joint venture of Go-Ahead and Keolis had won the Integrated Kent Franchise. This will run for eight years, although the last two are conditional on meeting contractual performance targets. As well as taking over the existing South Eastern Trains network, IKF will operate high speed domestic services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from 2009.

Total subsidy in NPV terms is put at £585m. Reflecting recent investment in new trains and the likely £250m cost of the CTRL DS fleet, the new operator will be permitted to increase fares by 3% above inflation for five years from January 2007.

On December 13 DfT announced that FirstGroup had won the Greater Western and Thameslink/Great Northern franchises. Greater Western replaces the current Great Western, GW Link and Wessex franchises, of which the first two are already run by First. The franchisee will pay premia worth £1131m over the 10-year term, although again the final three years are conditional.

FirstGroup has committed to retaining the London - Penzance overnight sleeper train and a half-hourly London - Cardiff service. Over £200m is to be spent re-engineering IC125 HST sets during the first two years, including the fitting of MTU engines in all the power cars (RG 11.05 p707).

FirstGroup will take over Thameslink from Govia and the WAGN business from National Express to form First Capital Connect. FirstGroup will pay premia of £808m in NPV terms if the franchise runs for the full nine years, although there are two break points after four and six years. This will enable DfT Rail to reflect any progress with the long-planned Thameslink 2000 cross-London upgrading project.