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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Connex: The end of the track?
Rail operator Connex has lost its franchise to run services in Kent and Sussex. BBC News Online takes a look at the company and its history in the UK.

Connex's antics on the British railways have become the stuff of legend within the community of hardy commuters forced to use its services.

Connex passengers
Tired of waiting?
On one occasion, a Connex driver on a London to Portsmouth train left passengers on a siding because he was late to pick up his children from school.

In another incident - reminiscent of Thomas the Tank Engine - a Eurostar from Brussels was ordered to slow down and help find carriages that a Connex driver had "lost" after the couplers holding them together failed.

Passengers have endured the daily humiliations now associated with rail travel in the south east - delays, cancellations, overcrowding and even flea infestations on the trains.

"The service has got worse every year," traveller Dawn Enderson told BBC News Online.

"Only the longer summer days make the commute from Battle to London each day, with continuing delays, just bearable."

European mover

But Connex's reputation in the UK is surprisingly poor for a company with international experience in 22 countries and an annual turnover of 3.4bn euros (2.3bn).

Connex runs services in the southeast
Employs 3,000 people
Runs 546,583 trains
Operates 176 stations
Uses 606 miles of track
Source: Britain's Railways magazine

The French-owned company is Europe's biggest private rail operator and a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, formerly known as Vivendi Environnement.

This month it won Germany's biggest ever rail tender to be awarded to a private operator - a franchise to operate the regional Marschbahn line from Hamburg to Westerland.

On its group website, it proudly says: "Connex knows about this business from consultancy services in designing a transport system to operating a network, including setting it up and co-ordinating it."

So what went wrong in the UK where it currently runs Connex South Eastern's 1,500 daily services, carrying 100 million commuters a year?

Tale of woe

Connex originally won a 15-year franchise deal when the British railways were privatised in October 1996.

But the service was soon hit by delays, cancellations and financial difficulties.

Two years ago Connex became the first operator to lose a franchise since privatisation when it lost control of the south central area in a competitive bidding process.

In December chief executive Olivier Brousse gave out 15 vouchers to passengers after conceding that the company's performance had been "awful".

At the same time the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) decided to cut the length of Connex's contract by five years, giving it until 2006 to clean up its act.

Financial problems

In the end, however, it was the SRA's concerns about the company's financial mismanagement, rather than operational difficulties that persuaded it to pull the plug.

After receiving 58m from the SRA in December to help it improve its financial performance, Connex recently asked for another 200m in subsidies.

Earlier this year in March, it also faced a fine of 1.65m for providing a poor service during January.

Mr Brousse has professed shock at the SRA's decision to take away Connex's franchise, claiming his staff "worked tirelessly to run this railway as best as they could".

Some passengers admit that they have experienced improvements with the introduction of new trains, but clearly the SRA was running short on patience.

SRA chairman Richard Bowker told the BBC there had been a "serious loss of confidence" in the ability of the company to run the business.

So it seems in the south east, at least, Connex has reached the end of the track.

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