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Southeastern’s parent company breaks silence to confirm it WILL be bidding for Kent rail franchise again

PUBLISHED: 10:59 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:26 14 March 2017

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Rail company delays clear response for hours (now we know how commuters feel)

The consultation has begun on the future of Kent’s railway service as the Department for Transport calls for comments on what the next operator for the franchise could offer - amid speculation incumbent Southeastern could be set to finally lose its grip on the contract.

Southeastern, which currently operates the vast majority of the county’s rail services, will see its existing franchise agreement end in July 2018.

Parent company the Go-Ahead Group this afternoon quoshed speculation it would not be bidding again - despite refusing to confirm or deny for most of the day.

A spokesman said: “We can confirm that we would expect to submit a strong bid for the south eastern franchise when the time comes and would wish to retain the franchise we currently operate. However, as always, this will depend on the DfT contract terms.”

The south eastern franchise - which is currently operated by Southeastern, and prior to that Connex - currently handles 640,000 passenger journeys on 1,900 train services every weekday.

However, it has been criticised by passenger groups for poor communications and poor service over the years, adding to pressure it may struggle to cling on to the franchise when it comes up for renewal next year.

Now the the government wants passengers, local councils and other interested parties to help dictate what the next operator will deliver.

Secretary of state for transport, Chris Grayling, said: “Passengers on a new south eastern franchise from 2018 will enjoy modern trains with more space and a more punctual and reliable service.

“This consultation sets out what we expect the next operator to deliver for passengers, including working more closely with Network Rail to ensure a focus on performance, and innovative use of technology to improve both ticket buying and compensation if things do go wrong.”

The DfT says its ambitions for the franchise include creating more space for passengers by running longer trains and upgrading or replacing older trains; increasing reliability and reducing delays by the train operator working closely with Network Rail; improving compensations arrangements with a simple automated system;

introduction of a smarter payment system, including mobile phones; and improving customer service with staff able to respond quickly and effectively to passenger’s needs

This will be the first franchise to have an integrated operating team between train services and infrastructure. This means that the new operator must form an alliance with Network Rail, working as one team to deliver a better railway for passengers.

The DfT consultation will run for 10 weeks, closing on May 23, 2017, with a series of public events being staged with experts on hand.

Kent County Council cabinet member for environment and transport, Matthew Balfour, said: “We welcome this consultation by DfT and would encourage everyone who uses the rail service in Kent to take part.

“This consultation will help Kent County Council to ensure the best rail service for all passengers using the new south eastern franchise.

“Kent County Council is already represented in the DfT’s new franchise team. The council will respond to the consultation to ensure a better rail service for all Kent’s rail passengers in the new franchise.”

Leader of the London Borough of Bexley, Teresa O’Neill added: “As one of the few London borough’s without a tube line Bexley’s residents rely heavily on the rail service. This kind of opportunity to have a say on priorities for the future provider should not be missed. I would encourage as many people as possible to take part in the survey or visit one of the information events so they can help inform the final decision.”

Medway Council’s portfolio holder for front line services Phil Filmer added: “Southeastern is a major transport provider for Medway and thousands of our residents use the service every day. It’s therefore important that people living in Medway have their say on how their journeys could be improved and what sort of changes they’d like to see. By commenting on the upcoming consultation customers can help shape the future of travel in Medway and the surrounding areas.”

To take part in the consultation, click on THIS LINK.

A spokesperson for Southeastern said earlier: “We welcome any changes to the franchise specifications that will improve the services our passengers receive and will continue to work with the Department for Transport on this.

“We’re focused on delivering our current franchise and will continue to invest over £70million in improvements in the areas that matter most to our passengers.

“Our recent National Rail Passenger Survey customer satisfaction scores have risen, reflecting that passengers are noticing the improvements being made; but we know there is still more work to do and we will continue to work with Network Rail to improve the experience passengers have when travelling with us.”

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