The Southeastern rail franchise, operated by Govia has been extended again, to April 2020 – but wont now be put up for formal tender to be renewed after that.

Govia took over the franchise in 2006, and it was due to expire in March 2014. Following the DfT’s review after the cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise process, extensions were granted to the franchises due for renewal with Southeastern’s franchise extended until June 2018, then December 2018, June 2019, November 2019, and now until 1st April 2020.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has also confirmed that the competition for the next South Eastern franchise has been terminated, citing “concerns that continuing the competition process would lead to additional costs incurred to the taxpayer, with no certainty that this would deliver envisaged benefits for passengers in a timely fashion.”

Not mentioned was the real problem, that the government is facing court action over how it was trying to award the franchises with a requirement that the operators take on open-ended pension liabilities from the previous operators.

The £25 billion Railways Pension Scheme has a deficit of around £7.5 billion, which needs to be plugged, by a mix of 60% company and 40% employee contributions.

Virgin, Stagecoach and Arriva Trains are all suing the government after it blocked them from bidding for the Southeastern franchise, and others, following their refusal to accept the still uncertain scale of the pension liabilities.

The franchise bidders don’t want “open ended” liabilities, and the RMT has threatened to strike if its members are asked to pay more into the scheme.

As a result of the pensions dispute and the franchise cancellation, from next April the government will take direct control of the Southeastern services until it decides what to do with it.

That could give TfL time to plan it’s own bid to take over the franchise, if it can find the money somewhere, or for the government to reissue the franchise following the imminent rail review by Keith Williams which could see a major shake-up of how the railways are run.


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  1. Gerry says:

    TfL should take over all the privatised London inner suburban routes; they made a very convincing business case last March (search for ‘metroisation’). The Overground has far better passenger ratings than Southeastern and GTR.

  2. Sykobee says:

    If TfL end up with more Metro rail routes then I hope they reassess the Overground route colour. A sea of orange helps no-one. Keep the orange for the existing orbital overground route, and assign (for example only) dashed orange-yellow, orange-black, etc, for the other routes. And don’t put the entire network on the in-train maps, making them incomprehensible.

    • pbarnes says:

      Hopefully this could provide a use for the TfL Rail Brand going forward after the Elizabeth Line opens – but they need to realistically separate the overground from the standard tube map or do something to aid its usability.

  3. Andrew says:

    I commute on Southeastern every day i think they get too much stick. They have a network that has intertwining routes and lots of flat level junctions. Possibly the most complex in the country or even the world. When the government take this over people are expecting some magic results but unless they actually rebuild all the junctions up and over or come up with very fancy moving block signalling so trains can cross each other at speed then we should expect no improvement. There are some key pinch points like Herne Hill which is surrounded by million pound houses we cannot really expect major rebuild there as an up and over junction would require purchasing and demolishing billions of pounds worth of housing. The key unimprovments we have seen lately at Bromley South are the government Thameslink programme taking all our slots into Blackfriars leaving Southeastern with just 4x AM slots and 4x PM slots which is not enough. If we hand the government the keys to Southeastern i am convinced we will see more unimprovements coming our way as there would be no voice fighting for Southeastern against the rest.

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