Southeastern to run service to 2018
A train company has been given the green light to carry on running commuter services until 2018 on routes where a rail minister admitted "passengers haven't always received the service that they deserve".
The Government has announced the Southeastern train company operated by transport group Go-Ahead will continue running services between London, Kent and parts of East Sussex until June 2018.
Under the new arrangement Southeastern will provide thousands more seats, improved services and better ticketing.
Rail minister Claire Perry said: "I know passengers on this route haven't always received the service that they deserve, which is why I am absolutely determined that today marks a fresh start for the Southeastern franchise.
"This decision has been taken after careful work by the Department for Transport with Go-Ahead Plc, to ensure that the franchise can genuinely improve its services against a challenging backdrop of vital improvements to the tracks and stations on which their trains operate."
She went on: "Given these challenges, we believe that continuing the franchise rather than entering into a new one at this point will provide passengers with the best service for the next three years as well as offering the best value to all of us who help fund the railway through our taxes.
"But I am determined that through this contract passengers will get more seats on improved trains, better journey connections, upgraded stations and overall more focus on their needs in London and the South East with the change starting from today. My job, and the job of the department, is now to make sure that Southeastern delivers."
The promised improvements include:
:: More than 95,000 extra seats across the network, including 1,000 extra seats on Southeastern's Javelin Train high-speed services every day;
:: Better services, including i mproved connections between London, North Kent and East Kent thanks to a new hourly high-speed service via Gillingham, Ramsgate, Dover and Ashford;
:: Javelin trains will call at Snodland, Martin Mill and Walmer for the first time, along with extra high-speed services for Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate;
:: Better ticketing, with a commitment to work with Transport for London to roll out Oyster card acceptance to Dartford and Swanley, and to introduce Oyster on the high-speed service between St Pancras and Stratford International.
Go-Ahead chief executive David Brown said: "We're looking forward to delivering these plans and are wholly committed to improving performance and services for customers and our local communities."
He promised passengers more staff on stations, a spruce-up of trains, more ticket machines and improved station security.
Mick Cash, acting general secretary of rail union the RMT, said: " This is a reward for total and abject failure which speaks volumes about the racket which is rail privatisation.
"No matter how badly these private train companies let down the travelling public they can still rely on the Government to protect them and the fat profits and subsidies they are robbing from the rail network."
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Nothing succeeds like failure if you are Southeastern. Our real time arrival figures showed this week that 40% of their trains arrived late last year.
"For many years they were also allowed to charge the highest fare increases - 3% on top of inflation. So for the most expensive and late-running service, they get rewarded with a new deal.
"If they were a football manager like David Moyes (former Manchester United manager) they would have been sacked years ago. In the Whitehall farce of rail privatisation, they get promoted."
With French company Keolis, Go-Ahead forms the transport company Govia which already runs the London Midland and the Southern rail franchises.
Next week Govia will start operating the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise (TSGN) - a new franchise which will be the country's largest.
TSGN comprises the current First Capital Connect routes, as well as the Southern franchise and a small part of Southeastern.