Southeastern rail franchise renewed until 2018
Southeastern will continue to operate rail services between London, Kent and parts of East Sussex until June 2018, the government has announced.
The company, which is part-owned by the Go-Ahead group, has promised passengers real improvements to their journeys.
More than £70m will be invested in better customer information systems, additional staff and maintenance to stations and trains along the route.
Rail minister Claire Perry described it as a "fresh start" for Southeastern.
The contract will deliver more than 95,000 extra seats across the network, new services between key destinations, and a commitment to roll out the use of Oyster cards - plastic "smartcards" used instead of paper tickets - to additional stations.
Southeastern will continue to work with Network Rail and other operators on a major rebuild of London Bridge station, as part of the government's £6.5bn Thameslink programme, which is due for completion in 2018.
Ms Perry said: "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.
"But I am determined that through this contract passengers will get more seats on improved trains, better journey connections, upgraded stations and overall more focus on their needs in London and the South East with the change starting from today."
Improvements promised under the new franchise include:
- Improved connections between London, north Kent and east Kent thanks to a new hourly high-speed service via Gillingham, Ramsgate, Dover and Ashford
- High speed services calling at Snodland, Martin Mill and Walmer for the first time, along with extra high speed services for Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate
- A peak-time Hastings Business Express service providing faster journeys into London, saving up to 10 minutes on the current journey times
- New direct services between Maidstone East and Blackfriars, and between Sheerness-on-Sea and London Victoria
- Extra evening and weekend services between Dartford and London Victoria
- A commitment to work with Transport for London to roll out Oyster acceptance to Dartford and Swanley, and to introduce Oyster on the high speed service between St Pancras and Stratford International
- Southeastern will invest in new digital display screens at key stations and there will be more passenger facing staff who will be equipped with tablets to pass on service updates and journey planning advice
- More than 300 trains will be refreshed, including toilet upgrades and accessibility improvements on some trains
- Self-service ticket machines will be installed at more stations with ticket gates at Swanley and Staplehurst
- Opening hours at Cannon Street station will be extended so the station is open for 21 hours a day to accommodate additional services
David Brown, chief executive of Go-Ahead, said: "We're looking forward to delivering these plans and are wholly committed to improving performance and services for customers and our local communities."
But Martin Abrahams, from the Campaign for Better Transport, said the promises "remained to be seen".
"This franchise has got one of the poorest customer satisfaction levels across the whole of the UK railway network.
"We would like to see some extensive passenger consultation - there seemingly has been very little if any.
"It seems like it has been rushed through without getting the views of the people that count most," he said.