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New mega rail franchise starts up

Services on a new rail franchise, on which 273 million passenger journeys a year will be made, are starting today.

The Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise - the UK's biggest - is being operated by Govia, a joint venture between transport company Go-Ahead and French company Keolis.

To start with Govia will be operating Thameslink and Great Northern services in southern England, including the routes run by First Capital Connect.

In December 2014 a small number of services and stations currently operated by the Southeastern train company will be incorporated into the new franchise.

Then in July 2015 the Southern and Gatwick Express routes will become part of the mega franchise which will embrace 6,500 staff and generate annual passenger revenues of around £1.3 billion.

Govia is promising "significant improvements" for passengers , including new trains, more services and better connections. In all, £430 million will be invested during the seven-year franchise.

But rail unions RMT and Aslef say the Government has awarded Govia the franchise "on the basis of cutting station staffing and closing ticket offices".

The two unions are holding a protest at Blackfriars station in London tomorrow - the first working day of the new franchise.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) chief executive Charles Horton said: "There's no underestimating the challenge of the task ahead.

"But I'm confident that we have the people and the plans in place to make a real difference to the service we give our passengers, and that for our staff GTR will be a great place to work."

RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: "Monday's protest marks the beginning of a rolling campaign opposing the new franchise's proposals for driver-only operation and the sacking and reducing of the role of train guards and conductors, station de-staffing and the closure of ticket offices.

"Passengers can now expect to see fares go up and a less safe service as the franchisee tries to squeeze as much profit as it can from the operation."

The Thameslink and Great Northern routes connect important regional centres north and south of London such as Peterborough, Cambridge, Bedford, Luton, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton.

The services have direct rail links to Gatwick and Luton airports, and to Eurostar at St Pancras International station in London.

From 2018 trains to Farringdon station will connect with Crossrail, bringing fast links to Heathrow, Canary Wharf and central London.

Last week, amid some criticism, Govia was given an extension to 2018 on its Southeastern franchise. Announcing this, Rail Minister Claire Perry said: "I know passengers on this route haven't always received the service that they deserve."

Labour and rail unions denounced the deal, with the Campaign For Better Transport saying Southeastern had "more dissatisfied passengers than anywhere else on the network".

Govia also runs the London Midland franchise.

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