In a statement, Trenitalia said the decision takes into account the recent acquisition of London commuter franchise c2c and the company’s selection to bid for other franchises.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has shortlisted joint ventures between Trenitalia and First Rail Holdings to bid for the West Coast Partnership (WCP) and East Midlands franchises. Trenitalia says there is “significant overlap” between the South Eastern competition and WCP, which the company considers its primary target.

Trenitalia’s exit from the South Eastern contest leaves three bidders in the running:
• South Eastern Holdings, a joint venture of Abellio, East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui
• London and South East Passenger Rail Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Govia, and
• Stagecoach South Eastern Trains, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Stagecoach Group.

The invitation to tender will be issued to shortlisted bidders in September and the contract is due to be awarded in August 2018, with the new operator expected to take over in December 2018.