\r\n\r\nIncumbent operator First Great Western is joined by Arriva's GW Trains, National Express' NXGW and Stagecoach Great Western Trains in prequalifying for the Great Western franchise, which operates Great Western Main Line GWML) services from London Paddington to Bristol, South Wales and the South West of England as well as commuter services in London and local and regional services in South Wales and the southwest. An invitation to tender is expected to be issued next month and the successful bidder announced in December for a 15-year contract that will commence in April 2013. The GWML is currently being upgraded and electrified under a \u00a35bn modernisation project which includes the installation of ERTMS, reconstruction of the station and junctions at Reading, and the introduction of new trains during the next franchise agreement.\r\n\r\nThe Essex Thameside contract is also for 15 years and with prequalified bidders Abellio Essex Thameside, First Essex Thameside, MTR and National Express' NXET Trains expected to contend when the invitation to tender is issued in June. The contract is set to be awarded in January 2013 and will commence in May 2013. Essex Thameside encompasses services on the line from London Fenchurch station to Tilbury and Southend.\r\n\r\nAbellio, First and MTR have also prequalified for the Thameslink franchise along with Govia Thameslink Railway, a consortium of Go-Ahead and Keolis, and Stagecoach. The invitation to tender will be issued in October 2012 and the winner announced in May 2013. Operations will start in September 2013 under a seven year contract which may be extended by two years at the discretion of the secretary of state. The new operator will oversee the completion of the Thameslink programme, a \u00a35.5bn investment to double the capacity on services through central London, which will be completed in 2018.