A NEW Kent and Sussex train operating franchise incorporating commuter services for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) is to be put out to tender later this year, the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) said this week.
The decision was made as the SRA decided to strip Connex of the south eastern rail franchise which covers commuter services between Kent, Sussex and London.
Connex was stunned by the SRA decision to give it six months notice to quit. The SRA cited Connex's 'failure to meet a detailed action programme of improvements' agreed in 2003.
An interim company will run the franchise for the SRA until the new contract to include the high-speed CTRL commuter section is awarded.
An SRA spokesman said the new franchise competition would begin at the end of the year, with an award expected by the end of 2004.
The exact route has yet to be chosen. The SRA is studying the results of a consultation into six different routes for domestic services feeding onto the CTRL.
It will inform Transport Secretary Alistair Darling of its preferred route 'within weeks'.
The six routes cover a combination of CTRL and existing lines. The final decision by Darling is expected in the autumn.
Train operators told NCE they would wait to see the details of the franchise before commenting on whether they would be interested. First Group said it would definitely bid while National Express said it was unlikely to be interested.
The SRA said a separate tender process for the supply of new high speed trains for the CTRL domestic services has already begun, with a supplier to be chosen later this year.