MTR eyes two UK rail routes

MTR CORPORATION, the company that operates Hong Kong’s metro system, is believed to be working on plans to bid for two more British rail franchises.

The Hong Kong group is keen to operate the c2c (Essex Thameside) and Thameslink franchises, according to weekend reports.

The Department for Transport is understood to be inviting bids for the two services before Christmas.

MTR, which has an almost perfect punctuality record in Hong Kong, has also improved punctuality and upgraded stations in Britain. In 2007 it won a seven-year concession to operate the London Overground suburban network in a joint venture with Deutsche Bahn.

But it is likely to face stiff competition for c2c and Thameslink, which have steady take up because they are commuter lines. National Express, which runs c2c, is expected to fight for the franchise as it is the company’s only remaining British rail contract.

A spokesman said: “As part of National Express, c2c has delivered and still holds both the annual and four-week period punctuality records. We hope to build upon this success and continue running the service after the existing franchise ends in 2013.”

Thameslink is run by First Group through First Capital Connect. It could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the fate of another planned train line – the controversial high-speed route from London to Birmingham – is understood to have been delayed until the New Year.

Transport secretary Justine Greening is understood to be considering whether a £500,000 tunnel should be bored to minimise impact on the Chiltern Hills landscape. She has asked for a feasibility study to be carried out on a 1.5m tunnel near Amersham, as well as an environmental probe.

The 100-mile rail link, due to be built between 2016 and 2026, would cut the journey between the two cities to 49 minutes. But the £32bn project has provoked fury among many Tory MPs, with Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan reportedly threatening to resign.