FirstGroup has lost one of Britain's busiest commuter rail franchises after the new-look Thameslink route was awarded to a joint venture controlled by rival Go-Ahead.
Govia, a joint venture between Go-Ahead and France's state-owned Keolis, won the contest to operate the new Thameslink Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise. The outcome is another blow to FirstGroup's rail ambitions after it won the west coast route in 2012 but then promptly lost the franchise when the Department for Transport admitted the bidding process was flawed.
Go-Ahead will be operating a new £6.5bn franchise whose development has caused some controversy, including budget problems and the award of a carriage building contract to Germany's Siemens ahead of Bombardier's Derby factory.
Nearly 1,400 new electric carriages will be rolled out across the new franchise by the end of 2018, providing 50% more capacity and 10,000 extra seats each weekday into central London during the morning peak hours.
The TSGN franchise will play a crucial role in delivering the government's Thameslink project, a major programme of infrastructure work that is helping to create 8,000 jobs and will allow 24 trains an hour to travel in each direction between Blackfriars and St Pancras.
New tunnels will link Peterborough and Cambridge to the existing Thameslink route, providing easy access across London via St Pancras to Gatwick and Brighton.
The franchise will also introduce new cross-capital services and a connection at Farringdon to London's newest railway, Crossrail. Govia will order a new fleet of 108 carriages for the Gatwick Express service, replacing the current 25-year-old trains with a fleet better suited to the needs of airport passengers. It will also secure 150 new carriages to replace the 40-year-old trains currently operating on the route between Moorgate, north London and Hertfordshire.