MASSIVE overhauls are expected as a British and Hong Kong partnership is to take over the running of a Hampshire rail franchise.

First Group, along with MTR, which operates the Hong Kong metro, will run the south western franchise for the next seven years in a deal which will be worth £2.6bn to the government during that time.

A £1.2bn investment package to bring faster trains and thousands of extra seats has been promised by the new operator which will rebrand the service South Western Trains.

The new service package will consist of a previously announced £1.4m upgrade of Southampton Central station and 750 new carriages ordered from Bombardier at a cost of £900m.

The existing Desiro trains will refurbished and the Wessex Class 442s, which were mothballed in 2007, will be brought back into service.

Proposals for new stations could include one for the new multimillion-pound Welborne development near Fareham.

Direct services between Weymouth and London will be reduced from two to one per hour.

Passengers travelling from Dorset and Bournemouth will have to change at Southampton Central if they don’t catch the direct service to Waterloo.

However, a new Weymouth-to-Portsmouth service would also be introduced to provide a direct connection along the south coast.

Andy Mellors, the new managing director of South Western Trains, said: “We want to provide more value for money and improve on what Stagecoach has achieved.”

Mr Mellors also welcomed the competition from Alliance Rail which has submitted plans for a new open-access service between Waterloo and Southampton Central but expressed doubts over whether there was any capacity to provide an enhanced service in the city.

Councillor Simon Letts, leader of Southampton City Council said: “The improvements at Southampton are much needed - it is the busiest station the Solent area so the investment will create a more integrated transport hub.

“We hope that the franchise will deliver better services, the major improvement for me will be additional capacity and a more transparent fare system.”

Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport said: “In the future, the Government sees Network Rail and train operators working hand-in-glove at a local level. The new south western franchise is an important test of how this will work in practice.”

The new franchise starts this Sunday, August 20.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Mellors, would not be drawn on whether fares would rise.

However, today the government is due to announce its new regulated fares, which will come into effect from January 2018.