SERCOGroup announced on April 23 that it had been selected as preferred bidder for a 25-year concession to run the Merseyrail Electrics suburban network in the UK, in a joint venture with NS subsidiary NedRailways (RG 4.03 p222). The £3·6bn contract is due to start on July 20, when responsibility for Merseyrail will pass from the Strategic Rail Authority to the local transport authority Merseytravel.

SRA issued Invitations to Tender on April 15 for the Greater Anglia franchise, which will combine the existing Anglia and Great Eastern franchises with WAGN’s West Anglia operations out of London’s Liverpool Street station. Three bidders had been shortlisted two weeks earlier: incumbents GB Railways (Anglia) and National Express Group (WAGN), plus Arriva Trains, but not the holder of the Great Eastern franchise FirstGroup. Detailed proposals are due by September 1, with the new franchise to be let in ’spring 2004’.

As operator of Great Western Trains, FirstGroup is being invited to bid for a two-year interim contract to run suburban services out of Paddington, in competition with extension proposals from the Thames Trains franchise holder Go-Ahead Group. The two operations are due to merge in 2006 to form a Greater Western franchise, which will also incorporate NEG’s Wessex Trains business.

On April 1 SRA also announced that Arriva Trains, FirstGroup, GB Railways, Serco/NS, and the Eurailco UK grouping of Transdev with RATP Développement had ’qualified’ to bid for the new Northern franchise in the north of England. Interurban services are to be transferred to TransPennine Express later this year, and the Northern winner to be announced next spring will take over the remaining routes in 2004.