Published: 08:00, 11 September 2014
| Updated: 08:23, 11 September 2014
Southeastern has today been awarded the contract to continue running trains in Kent – despite the government admitting passengers "have not always received the service they deserve".
The deal, said to include tough new performance targets, means the rail operator with a chequered history will provide services in the county until at least June 24, 2018.
Ministers promised the contract will deliver thousands of extra seats, new services between key destinations and a commitment to roll out Oyster to parts of the county.
The new franchise, including more than £70million, will aim to improve poor passenger satisfaction levels with:
Rail minister Claire Perry said: "I know passengers on this route haven't always received the service that they deserve, which is why I am absolutely determined that today marks a fresh start for the Southeastern franchise.
"This decision has been taken after careful work by the Department for Transport with Go-Ahead Plc, to ensure that the franchise can genuinely improve its services against a challenging backdrop of vital improvements to the tracks and stations on which their trains operate."
She added: "Given these challenges, we believe that continuing the franchise rather than entering into a new one at this point will provide passengers with the best service for the next three years as well as offering the best value to all of us who help fund the railway through our taxes."
Southeastern will also work with Network Rail on a major rebuild of London Bridge station, as part of the government's £6.5billion Thameslink programme, which is due for completion in 2018.
David Brown, chief executive of Go-Ahead, which runs Southeastern, said: "We're looking forward to delivering these plans and are wholly committed to improving performance and services for customers and our local communities.
"New managing director David Statham will be joining next week and will lead the company through this mission. We're proud of our team at Southeastern and know they’re ready to take on the challenge of supporting our customers."
But Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Today's announcement comes with a welcome promise of service improvements, but the fact remains that Southeastern have been given a four-year extension despite having more dissatisfied passengers than anywhere else on the network.
"Passengers deserve more clarity in how decisions are being made and should have a bigger say in who runs their trains."
Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch said: "While I recognise that it is not a perfect outcome for Southeastern commuters, the fact is that there a massive refurbishment programme at London Bridge and a change in franchise holder would have increased disruption.
"This is a short-term extension albeit one with tougher targets. Kent MPs made it very clear to ministers that any extension should not be on the same basis of the previous contract."
She welcomed the introduction of additional services, which include a new high-speed service from Snodland, along with direct services between Maidstone East and Blackfriars.