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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 November, 2003, 15:31 GMT
Rail authority takes on franchise
A Connex train
The handover is seven weeks ahead of schedule
The body that oversees the UK's railways is to take over the South Eastern franchise from Sunday.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) stripped French firm Connex of the service in June because of poor financial management.

The SRA had previously said Connex would continue running the Kent and Sussex services until the end of 2003.

It is hoped a new private firm will be found to take over the region's services by 2005.

SRA will run the network via a wholly-owned subsidiary, South Eastern Trains.

The change will happen at 0200 GMT, and posters and leaflets have been printed to inform passengers of the new arrangements.

South Eastern Trains said its priority was to "provide stability" for passengers for the next year, while "striving to improve the quality and reliability of the service and maintain the current high safety standards".

Managing director Michael Holden, former Connex South Eastern managing director, said: "My plan for the next 12 months is simple: to get it right, first time, more often.

Connex runs services in the southeast
The franchise covers Kent, south London and parts of East Sussex
"The only way it can be achieved is to focus the whole organisation tightly on the relentless, repetitive detail of our operation, day-in, day-out."

Connex said it was glad the handover had been completed seven weeks ahead of schedule.

And it apologised to customers for any disruption the handover negotiations may have caused.

It said they had, at times, "distracted Connex staff from the work being done to bring in the new trains, and from focusing on performance during this challenging time of year".

Three thousand staff

Connex chief executive Olivier Brousse said: "This ends a period of confusion between two different companies with two different visions for our railway."

Edward Funnell, spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "We are pleased a smooth handover has been concluded".

My plan for the next 12 months is simple: to get it right, first time, more often
Michael Holden, Connex
The SRA's move to take control of the franchise will put a government body in charge of train operations for the first time since the railways were privatised.

But chairman Richard Bowker said the temporary takeover was not a step toward renationalising Britain's railway.

The South Eastern franchise has 182 stations and 3,000 staff across Kent, south London and parts of East Sussex.

It runs about 1,700 train services a day, 1,400 of which go into London. About 120,000 people a day commute into the capital on its trains during the week.

The SRA says the validity of tickets and frontline staff will not change.

The franchise will eventually include high-speed commuter trains on the new line to the Channel Tunnel and be known as the Integrated Kent Franchise.

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