UK: Incumbent Stagecoach South West Ltd and FirstGroup’s First South Western Trains Ltd have been shortlisted to bid for the next South Western passenger franchise, the Department for Transport announced on February 4.

Around 14% of all UK rail journeys are made on the current South Western network, with 1 700 trains/day serving more than 200 stations in London, Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire Surrey, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight.

DfT’s public consultation on the specification for the new franchise is scheduled to end on February 9. The invitation to tender is expected to be issued in the next few months, and the next franchise would start when Stagecoach’s current contract ends in June 2017.

The length of the new franchise is still to be determined. Bidders will be asked to propose plans for the formation of a separate London suburban business unit, with a view to responsibility for specifying these services potentially being transferred to Transport for London in 2020, once works to increase capacity at London Waterloo station have been completed.

‘We are investing in additional capacity, and have ambitious plans for smart ticketing, customer service and improved connectivity across the South Western network, to give passengers real benefits across the region and beyond’, said Rail Minister Claire Perry.

Stagecoach Group Chief Executive Martin Griffiths said the incumbent would ‘look forward to working with local stakeholders on developing plans to tackle overcrowding, boost punctuality and deliver better, more connected and more accessible journeys.’ Stagecoach’s vision is for ‘a railway that is more responsive, and built around each customer, their priorities and their communities’, and ‘delivering industry-leading transport innovation and a step-change in customer service will be central to our proposals.’

First Rail Managing Director Steve Montgomery said FirstGroup has ‘extensive experience’ of running commuter, inter-urban, regional and long-distance services, and a ‘strong track record in delivering passenger growth, as well as capacity and infrastructure upgrades’ at Great Western Railway and First TransPennine Express. He said FirstGroup is ‘developing an innovative and value-for-money proposal that will deliver better connectivity and significant improvements for customers.’

In November the National Audit Office published a report on the management of the franchising programme which said DfT believed at least three bids for a franchise were needed to ensure quality, and warned that value for money may be reduced if there are fewer.