The biggest new rail franchise ever awarded, which will include parts of the East of England, has been won by Go-Ahead Group company Govia, with rival FirstGroup missing out.

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The new Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise will replace the existing Thameslink and Great Northern franchise, currently operated by FirstGroup as First Capital Connect, from September this year.

It will also include the South Central franchise, currently operated by Govia as Southern and Gatwick Express, when it expires in July 2015, with a small number of services and stations also transferring from the South Eastern franchise, also opeted by Govia, from December this year.

The seven-year deal will cover services currently carrying 273million passengers a year and linking locations including Cambridge, King’s Lynn, Peterborough, Bedford and Luton to destinations such as Brighton and Gatwick Airport, as well as providing links to the high speed Channel Tunnel line at St Pancras and to the new Crossrail service at Farringdon.

The franchise will also see the introduction of 1,140 new carriages on the Thameslink network and 108 new carriages for the Gatwick Express route.

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said today: “A world class railway is a vital part of our long-term economic plan.

“New state-of-the-art trains, more seats, better connections and improved stations will transform travel across London and the South East. That’s great news for businesses and the hundreds of thousands of passengers who use these vital services every day.”

David Brown, group chief executive of the Go-Ahead Group said: “This award is testimony to the experience of our people of working in partnership with the DfT, Network Rail and other industry stakeholders and in delivering major integration projects and change programmes.

“Our bid for the franchise was focused on improving customers’ experience and includes two new train fleets for Gatwick Express and Moorgate services, in addition to overseeing the introduction of the Thameslink trains already ordered, as well as delivering improvements at stations.

“I’m looking forward to working with existing colleagues and welcoming new staff and together delivering this transformational franchise.”

Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup’s chief executive, said: “I am disappointed that we will not be operating the new franchise and taking the Thameslink programme on to its next stage.

“We submitted a strong bid which would have delivered high quality services for passengers, value for taxpayers and an economic return for shareholders.

“We are tremendously proud to have operated a significant part of this network over the past eight years through our First Capital Connect franchise, and of the many improvements we have delivered during that time.

“I would like to thank all of our employees who worked tirelessly to deliver improved services for our customers during a period of great change on the network.”

Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “After the West Coast franchising fiasco, passengers will be looking to the Thameslink deal for signs that they’ll get better services for their money, not just a maximising of cash going to the Treasury.

“The Thameslink announcement has some encouraging elements, and the Government now needs to ensure good ideas and investment are ongoing and form part of all future franchises. For instance, passengers will be looking for initiatives like smarter ticketing, so the millions of part-time workers can get the same season ticket savings as those who work full-time.

“They also want to see Government bringing a permanent end to inflation-busting fares rises which are due again in the new year.”

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