Exclusive Anne Bruce Railway stations have become the latest battle ground for convenience operators with French catering giant Elior preparing to launch a co-branded c-store chain. The news comes a week after Marks and Spencer revealed it was forming a railway c-store partnership with Elior's multinational rival, Compass Group. Four M&S Simply Food Stores will be trialled at railway stations (The Grocer, August 4, p4). Elior's British subsidiary Eliance will invest £15m in the first tranche of stores, at 40 of Connex's 179 sites in the south east. It is in discussions with other rail operators including Govia in a move towards nationwide coverage. Eliance signed a secret deal with Connex and Hachette Distribution Serv-ices to develop multi-service points of sales ­ selling train tickets, food, magazines and newspapers ­ within the Connex South Eastern network at the start of the year. The group invited UK convenience operators including Costcutter and Spar to pitch for the 40 stores. Costcutter said a confidentiality agreement prevented it from commenting. And Bryan Walters, retail sales controller of Spar wholesaler Capper and Co, said: "We have presented to Hachette and Elior for a joint project of 40 stores." Connex confirmed prototype stores would launch in Gillingham in October and later at Eltham, Kent. Oliver Janock, leading the c-store project for Connex, said: "A c-store with coffee shop will be added to stations as they are refurbished. The additional service will help us win franchises." A separate c-store initiative with Costcutter and Spar at Connex's South Central franchise has been put on hold as rival operator Govia prepares to take over the franchise. A spokeswoman said Govia planned more c-stores when it came on board in 2003. She said: "The pilot Spar at Leatherhead and the Costcutter at Cooden Beach have been very successful." Sainsbury became the first supermarket chain to open a c-store on a station forecourt when it launched Local in Paddington in December 1999. It is considering new sites on an individual basis. {{NEWS }}