THURROCK rail passengers could see big changes if the running of the borough’s train service is awarded to a new company.

The Government said the Essex Thameside franchise, operated as c2c by National Express, will expire in May 2011, with bids to run it being accepted from next summer.

Rival companies have already said they would consider bidding, including Stagecoach and Virgin Trains.

c2c run the London Fenchurch line through Thurrock which stops at Grays, Tilbury Town, East Tilbury, Stanford-Le-Hope, Ockendon, Chafford Hundred and Purfleet.

The uncertainty was heightened last week when the Government pulled the plug on National Express’ Liverpool Street line franchise three years early.

Spokesman for Thurrock Rail Users Group, Roger Pope, 35, of Shaw Crescent, Tilbury, said: “I don’t think anything is going to happen before the general election, it is still very early days.

“The service has been good in regards to punctuality and reliability. There is only between 40 and 45 miles of track so not much can go wrong.

“Until we know who is going to be in the bidding process it is hard to say what will happen.”

Leading Labour councillor Carl Morris said: “We want better services that should run for the customer and not for profit.

“My preference is that it would be in public ownership and any profits be ploughed back into reducing fares because c2c customers have seen a lot of fare increases.”

Conservative councillor Robert Gledhill said: “I want to try and keep fares down for local people and keep the punctuality rate at over 95 per cent.”

c2c was named joint first in the country in a passenger satisfaction report earlier this year.

Ellen Rossiter, spokesman for c2c and National Express, said the company had just scored 98 per cent for punctuality in a recent survey.

She added: “We look forward to continuing to operate this successful train line and will review the invitation to tender documents when they are issued by the Department of Transport next summer.”

Ashwin Kumar, director of rail watchdog Passenger Focus, said the group would make sure customers would be considered in any new deal.