FirstGroup shortlisted for three franchises, and NEG for two.

FirstGroup has been cleared to bid for three further UK rail franchises by the Department for Transport. The Aberdeen-based group, which is already in a four-way competition for the new West Coast franchise, has been shortlisted to bid for the new Great Western, Essex Thameside and Thameslink franchises.

All four of FirstGroup’s existing franchises expire within the next three years and the group faces a battle to maintain its position as the UK’s largest train operator. FirstGroup is the incumbent operator for the Great Western franchise and is co-incumbent for Thameslink, which will combine First Capital Connect with Govia’s Southern franchise.

Before FirstGroup took the crown, National Express Group was once the UK’s largest train operator with nine franchises, but today it only holds one – Essex Thameside. The group faced being exiled from the UK rail industry after handing back its East Coast franchise in 2009. It then lost its Greater Anglia franchise to Dutch group Abellio after failing to make the shortlist for the competition. However, chief executive Dean Finch’s efforts to lead a UK rail comeback were boosted last week when the group was shortlisted for two franchises – Essex Thameside and Great Western.

Abellio, FirstGroup and Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation stand in the way of NEG’s bid to retain Essex Thameside. Meanwhile, Finch will be on familiar territory when bidding for Great Western, having been closely involved with the franchise during his time at FirstGroup. To win Great Western, Finch will have to put together a bid capable of beating Arriva (Deutsche Bahn), FirstGroup and Stagecoach.

Meanwhile, the shortlist for the Essex Thameside franchise left Keolis disappointed. The French group was to take a 51% majority stake in its long-standing Govia joint venture with Go Ahead when bidding for this franchise (instead of its usual 35%), but it failed to make the shortlist. However, Govia did make the shortlist for the new Thameslink franchise, with Go Ahead and Keolis partnering on the basis of their usual 65/35 split.

The Shortlist

Great Western

  • Arriva
  • FirstGroup
  • National Express
  • Stagecoach

ITT issued: May 2012
Winner named: December 2012
Contract starts: April 2013

Essex Thameside

  • Abellio
  • FirstGroup
  • MTR Corporation
  • National Express

ITT issued: June 2012
Winner named: January 2013
Contract starts: May 2013

Thameslink

  • Abellio
  • FirstGroup
  • Govia
  • MTR Corporation
  • Stagecoach

ITT issued: October 2012
Winner named: May 2013
Contract starts: September 2013

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