ON SEPTEMBER 9 the UK Strategic Rail Authority announced that it was to start formal negotiations to extend four of the remaining first-generation franchises. The Wessex Trains and West Anglia Great Northern franchises currently held by National Express expire on March 31 2004, as does GOVIA’s Thameslink franchise. NEG’s contract for Silverlink runs to October 16 2004. According to SRA, all the extensions will be for approximately two years, and renewal is subject to agreement on ’the best possible deal for passengers and taxpayers’.

The WAGN extension will only cover the Great Northern operations out of King’s Cross, as the West Anglia routes into Liverpool Street are to be merged into the new Greater Anglia franchise from April 1 2004. Final bids for Greater Anglia were submitted by GBRailways, National Express and Arriva on September 1.

Given the disruption to Thameslink services caused by construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link terminal at St Pancras and the box for the new Thameslink 2000 station, SRA has dropped its plan to award a new franchise co-terminous with South Central. Instead a two-year extension of the existing franchise will ’provide continuity’ during the disruption. A replacement franchise would then cover the period to the completion of T2000 infrastructure works around 2012. SRA says that it is working with Network Rail to resolve the planning issues which have halted the Blackfriars section of T2000 in a bid to start work on the project ’as quickly as possible.’

OnSeptember 10, SRA confirmed that 13 expressions of interest had been received for the Integrated Kent Franchise, which will combine the South Eastern routes being taken back from Connex with the proposed domestic high speed services over the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (p609). Applications closed on September 3, and a shortlist of three to five bidders is to be selected by the end of this year.