UK Rail Minister Stephen Hammond is set to award the Essex Thameside franchise to its current operator, c2c.

The contract forms a part of the government’s multi-billion pound investment to improve journeys between London and the commuter hubs of Barking, Basildon, Southend and further afield.

Under the contract, c2c will operate and improve £160m worth of passenger services on the franchise over the next 15 years.

The contract also includes the delivery of an additional fleet of 17 new trains, which will provide 4,800 extra seats and complete step-free access at all stations for passengers with mobility difficulties.

"This deal is all about putting passengers at the heart of our railways."

Minister Hammond said: "This deal is all about putting passengers at the heart of our railways.

"Brand new trains, thousands more seats and millions of pounds invested in stations will mean significantly improved journeys for those passengers who use these services every day. It is further proof that our long-term economic plan is on track with the taxpayer getting more than £2 billion out of this deal."

In order to achieve new targets for punctuality, c2c is expected to make more than 90% of services available at respective destinations within one minute by the end of December 2018.

Image: Southend train station. Photo: courtesy of Crown.