Train operators Southeastern and Great Western Railway (GWR) have been given new direct award franchises, the Department for Transport has announced.

The department said the move will ensure “those who need to can continue to travel and will provide certainty for staff working on the railways”.

These agreements will run concurrently with the emergency measures announced last week which will see the Government temporarily take on the revenue and cost risk associated with individual franchises due to a collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

GWR, owned by FirstGroup, has been given a three-year deal, while Southeastern, owned by Govia, has been awarded a new two-year contract.

Southeastern and GWR’s existing agreements were due to end on Tuesday.

The department said the new contracts will lead to increased capacity at peak times, additional frontline staff and more trials of fare innovations.

Great Western Railways are owned by FirstGroup. Credit: PA

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said the Government had to take "decisive action" to ensure rail services continued to run for people who cannot work at home to get to work – particularly our NHS, emergency services and other vital industries.

“These contracts will keep services running in the short term but also are positive news for passengers in the future, focusing on more reliable services, extra capacity and improvements to the stations they use every day," he said.

“These are unprecedented times and the rail network is central to our national resilience. The deals announced today guarantee vital services in the short term and tangible improvements in the long term.”

Direct award franchises involve the Government negotiating directly with an incumbent operator, rather than a contract being awarded to a successful bidder.

The DfT scrapped a competition to operate services on Southeastern’s network in August last year amid concerns it would not deliver enough passenger benefits.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:

"Passengers who would normally use services on the Great Western and South Eastern lines will welcome clarity on the operation of their services from April. While of course most are staying home at the moment, when life gets back to normal they will want to know that whoever is running things will focus on continuing to deliver improvements.

"Both Great Western Railway and Southeastern passengers had started to report increased satisfaction. They will look to First and Govia to continue this trend."