PASSENGERS will spot very little difference when a British and Hong Kong partnership take over the running of a Hampshire rail franchise this weekend in a £2.4bn deal.

South West Trains, which has been operated by Stagecoach Group for the last 20 years will be rebranded as South Western Railway at 2am tomorrow (Sunday).

But passengers will not see much change until several weeks into the franchise as the changeover is expected to take time to phase in.

The new company plans to rebrand all rolling stock, website and booking system while 5,000 staff will get a new uniform.

Ninety new trains have been ordered from Bombardier at a cost of £900m while the Desiro trains will be refurbished and the Wessex Class 442s, mothballed in 2007, will return to service.

Rail services will also receive an overhaul as direct services between Weymouth and London will be reduced from two to one per hour while a new Weymouth-to-Portsmouth service would also be introduced for a direct connection along the south coast Southampton Central station will also be given a £1.4m facelift.

Andrew Mellors, managing director of South Western Trains, said: “First Group and MTR will deliver the improvements that people tell us they want right across the South Western franchise area, from Southampton and Portsmouth to Bristol and Exeter, to Reading, Windsor and London.

“Passengers can look forward to new and better trains, more seats and services, quicker journey times, enhanced stations and more flexible fare options.”

Stephen Joseph, of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Passengers will hope the new franchisees can make real improvements in the SWT services with more and better services and simpler and cheaper fares, especially for part-time workers."

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach Group, said: “I am very proud of the huge amount of work that’s been done over the past two decades to improve rail services for customers travelling with South West Trains.

"This is a testament to the commitment of our 5,000-strong team of employees and the great partnership we have with Network Rail and other key suppliers.

“Collectively, they work hard day in, day out as one railway to deliver a great service to customers.”