Scottish transport giants FirstGroup and Stagecoach Group are going head to head in the battle for a key rail franchise in England.
The Department for Transport said yesterday there were just two firms on its shortlist for the South Western network, which covers routes and stations between London Waterloo, Reading, Bristol, Exeter, Weymouth and Portsmouth.
Aberdeen-based FirstGroup is aiming for success for its First South Western Trains subsidiary, while Perth-headquartered Stagecoach is pinning its hopes on Stagecoach South West.
Whoever wins is due to take over the franchise – currently operated by Stagecoach-owned South West Trains – in June 2017, having shown how they can deliver better journeys for the passengers using nearly 1,700 trains a day from more than 200 stations.
First Rail managing director Steve Montgomery said: “We have extensive experience of running commuter, inter-urban, regional and long distance services – such as those that make up the South Western franchise – and a strong track record in delivering passenger growth, as well as capacity and infrastructure upgrades.
“The South Western franchise plays a crucial role in keeping people moving and communities prospering across the region.
“We are developing an innovative and value for money proposal that will deliver better connectivity and significant improvements for customers.”
FirstGroup’s revenues have been hammered in recent times by its failure to land major rail contracts, including ScotRail north of the border.
Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “We are proud to have been trusted to run the South Western network for the past 20 years.
“The continuity of one operator understanding and serving passengers and local communities has been key, helping transform the network and attract millions of new customers to rail travel.
“The next franchise requires a transport operator which fully understands this complex network, grasps the massive challenges ahead and has a track-record of delivery and working effectively with industry partners. Our experience means we are well-placed to see that job through.”
Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “The South Western franchise has some of the busiest routes in the country, serving a diverse range of passengers and places.
“It is vital that we have the best partner to help us meet the challenge of delivering better journeys for all customers using these services.”