The shortlisted bidders are:
- Stagecoach South West Limited
- First South Western Trains Limited
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
The South Western franchise has some of the busiest routes in the country, serving a diverse range of passengers and places. It is vital that we have the best partner to help us meet the challenge of delivering better journeys for all customers using these services.
We are investing in additional capacity, and have ambitious plans for smart ticketing, customer service and improved connectivity across the South Western network, to give passengers real benefits across the region and beyond.
The current franchise is operated by South West Trains, and covers urban, suburban, regional, and long-distance routes between London Waterloo, Reading, Bristol, Exeter, Weymouth, and Portsmouth. It also includes the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.
Stagecoach, which has operated the network under the South West Trains brand since 1996, is one of two bidders to have pre-qualified for the new franchise.
The Invitation to Tender ("ITT") for the franchise is expected to be published in the next few months. The new franchise is due to start in 2017 when the current South West Trains contract comes to an end.
Stagecoach Group Chief Executive Martin Griffiths said: "We are proud to have been trusted to run the South Western network for the past 20 years. The continuity of one operator understanding and serving passengers and local communities has been key, helping transform the network and attract millions of new customers to rail travel.
"Over the past two decades, we have introduced an entire new fleet of trains and invested in other major passenger improvements. We have worked in close partnership with Network Rail to deliver a more integrated railway. Our expertise has helped government develop a long-term vision for our rail network. We have also returned hundreds of millions of pounds to the taxpayer to reinvest in public services.
"But more work needs to be done. The next franchise requires a transport operator which fully understands this complex network, grasps the massive challenges ahead, and has a track-record of delivery and working effectively with industry partners. Our experience means we are well placed to see that job through.
"Our vision is for a railway that is more responsive, and built around each customer, their priorities and their communities. We look forward to working with local stakeholders on developing plans to tackle overcrowding, boost punctuality and deliver better, more connected and more accessible journeys. Delivering industry-leading transport innovation and a step-change in customer service will be central to our proposals."
The DfT has started consulting with passengers, businesses and local councils on the specification for the new South Western franchise. It has yet to confirm the length of the new contract. The consultation runs until 9 February 2016.
Steve Montgomery, First Rail Managing Director commented:
"We have extensive experience of running commuter, inter-urban, regional and long distance services - such as those that make up the South Western franchise - and a strong track record in delivering passenger growth, as well as capacity and infrastructure upgrades, on our Great Western Railway and First TransPennine Express networks. The South Western franchise plays a crucial role in keeping people moving and communities prospering across the region. We are developing an innovative and value for money proposal that will deliver better connectivity and significant improvements for customers. We look forward to the publication of further details by the DfT."