A Hong Kong firm and a UK train company have joined forces in an attempt to take over train services in one of England's busiest commuter areas.
South Eastern Trains has been running the service for a year
Railway services in south-east of England have been run by South Eastern Trains since Connex lost its franchise.
The MTR Corporation, which runs the Hong Kong Metro, wants to take over the franchise with GNER, which operates trains on the East Coast Main Line.
A new franchise holder for the South East is expected to take over in 2005.
It will run trains in Kent and part of East Sussex and on routes into London from those areas.
The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) stripped Connex of its franchise in June 2003, giving poor financial management as the reason.
The French firm was replaced five months later by South Eastern Trains, a subsidiary of the SRA.
MTR and GNER will bid for the new franchise under the name Great South Eastern Railway.
MTR has a 29% stake in the partnership.
Christopher Garnett, chief executive of GNER, described MTR as a "world class operation".
He said: "The world-leading skills of MTR in running densely timetabled services on heavily utilised routes will perfectly compliment GNER's high speed experience."
The franchise area covers Kent and parts of Sussex and London
Phil Gaffney, managing director of MTR, said his firm was delighted to team up with GNER.
Mr Gaffney said: "We share the same values and passion for high service standards in all aspects of railway operations, most importantly safety and reliability.
"We look forward to the opportunity of bringing the same level of quality services to passengers that Hong Kong commuters have come to expect."
Other train operators are expected to join the bidding for the franchise, with the successful company also set to run high speed services on the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link from 2008 or 2009.
Some unions have said they want to keep South Eastern Trains under public control, arguing reliability has improved over the past year.
Bob Crow, secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) said: "MTR should look after their own railways and leave South Eastern Trains in the public sector where it is delivering an excellent service with increasing levels of punctuality."
Tim Nicholson, from the Rail Passenger Committee for Southern England, said: "It is an extremely complex bit of network and while MTR's experience is completely relevant for suburban regions of London, they will not have the experience to reach down to the coast.
"I think it is an interesting combination (GNER and MTR) and we will have to see how MTR put together their bid."