Serco will compete against Stagecoach, Go Ahead and Keolis

Serco will face less challenging competition to retain its Docklands Light Railway contract than many in the industry had expected after several major international operators of light rail and metro systems opted not to compete for the new franchise.

The other companies on the shortlist for the new seven-year contract to operate and maintain the system are Stagecoach, Go Ahead in a 50/50 joint venture with Colas, and Keolis, the one prominent international light rail operator to have qualified, in a partnership with Amey.

Expansionist Paris-based operator RATP and Hong Kong-based MTR, both with extensive experience of metro and light rail operations in the UK, Europe and Asia, had been viewed as the most likely challengers. However, it is understood that neither expressed an interest.

“Increasingly people are going to be more selective in terms of what they bid for at a cost of at least £5m a throw and in planning how to resource bid teams,” one senior industry executive told Passenger Transport. “RATP and MTR are both fairly big players and will have set their sights on Crossrail.”

Although Go Ahead has no experience of operating light rail systems, it fulfilled Transport for London’s criteria that the new operator must have a proven track record by highlighting its operation of metro-type inner London services at its Southeastern and Southern rail franchises. Its joint venture with Colas also gives it a partner with extensive experience of rail infrastructure work, including maintaining the City Airport, Woolwich Arsenal and Stratford International DLR extensions.

Stagecoach is currently operator of the Sheffield Supertram and previously Manchester Metrolink, before selling the concession to RATP in 2011.

Key challenges that Serco’s rivals will face in competing for the contract include showing how they will maintain and improve on the DLR’s 98.5% reliability, how they will replicate Serco’s effective partnership with TfL, competence in using the DLR’s automatic train control system and catering for an anticipated surge in patronage after Crossrail opens in 2018.

Employment at Canary Wharf is forecast to double after Crossrail services start, with the DLR as well as Crossrail catering for the rise. In addition, interchanges with Crossrail are expected to lead to substantial new passenger numbers being fed into the DLR, rather than abstraction.


This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.
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