SWT to First MTR

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Paul Clifton rail@bauer­me­dia.co.uk

Stagecoach ousted as FirstGroup and MTR con­sor­tium wins con­tract to op­er­ate South West Trains fran­chise.

A con­sor­tium of FirstGroup and MTR has won the con­tract to op­er­ate the South West Trains fran­chise for seven years, start­ing on Au­gust 20, with pos­si­ble ex­ten­sion for a fur­ther 11 months.

South West Trains has been the flag­ship Stagecoach busi­ness since be­com­ing the first pri­va­tised pas­sen­ger train op­er­a­tor in 1996. It is the only fran­chise to have re­mained in the same own­er­ship through­out.

It op­er­ates ser­vices from Lon­don Water­loo to Read­ing, Portsmouth, Southamp­ton, Bournemouth, Wey­mouth, Sal­is­bury, Ex­eter and Bris­tol, with an ex­ten­sive sub­ur­ban metro network. Its lines are the busiest in Europe, and Water­loo is by far Bri­tain’s busiest sta­tion in terms of pas­sen­ger num­bers.

SWT op­er­ates 1,700 trains a day, cov­er­ing 200 sta­tions, and em­ploys 4,500 staff. It has con­sis­tently been the most lu­cra­tive rail busi­ness, in re­cent years re­turn­ing more than £100 mil­lion a year to the Trea­sury. And is the sec­ond largest pas­sen­ger fran­chise, af­ter Govia Thames­link Rail­way.

First MTR prom­ises new, more

Pre­mium pay­ments

The new op­er­a­tor will make pre­mium pay­ments of £2.6 bil­lion over seven years.

The fran­chise will re­ceive £1.2bn of in­vest­ment, of which £80 mil­lion will be di­rectly funded by First MTR. The net con­tri­bu­tion to the Trea­sury will there­fore ex­ceed £1.4bn. fre­quent and faster trains, with a step-change in qual­ity of ser­vice. It will pro­cure a new fleet of 90 trains con­sist­ing of 750 car­riages, to en­ter ser­vice from 2019. The trains will add 22,000 ex­tra seats into Water­loo each morn­ing peak, and 30,000 ad­di­tional seats every evening.

The com­pany states that it is in “ad­vanced dis­cus­sions” with a num­ber of train man­u­fac­tur­ers, but does not iden­tify them.

There will be ear­lier and later trains. Jour­neys from Southamp­ton to Water­loo will be eight min­utes faster, and from Sal­is­bury 11 min­utes faster.

Ex­ist­ing trains will be re­fur­bished, ex­cept for those on the Isle of Wight. Eigh­teen five-car Class 442 Wes­sex Electrics will be brought out of stor­age and re­fit­ted for ser­vices to Portsmouth by De­cem­ber 2018.

New forms of flex­i­ble tick­et­ing will be in­tro­duced, in­clud­ing

The ex­tra ca­pac­ity is ex­pected to in­crease pas­sen­ger rev­enue above the £991m earned in 2015-16.

Un­der the terms of the deal, pay­ments will re­duce should na­tional GDP (gross do­mes­tic prod­uct) and em­ploy­ment in cen­tral Lon­don fall. part-time sea­son tick­ets for commuters who travel three or four days a week. Tick­ets will be en­abled on mo­bile phones and on smart­cards shared by other trans­port op­er­a­tors in the re­gion. A mo­bile phone app will be “a pri­mary source of travel ad­vice, point­ing cus­tomers to­wards less busy coaches”.

There will be en­hanced com­pen­sa­tion for de­lays of 15 min­utes or longer, and free WiFi on all trains and at all sta­tions.

Southamp­ton Cen­tral sta­tion will also be up­graded, with a new en­trance and bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties for pas­sen­gers.

How­ever, the deal also means that 30 brand new 12-car Siemens Class 707 trains, which are due to en­ter ser­vice next month, will not be re­tained. Re­cently re­fur­bished Class 458 trains on the Read­ing line, which had ex­tra car­riages added last year to form ten-car trains, will also be re­tired. It is ex­pected that Class 455/456 sub­ur­ban ve­hi­cles that are cur­rently un­der­go­ing a full tech­ni­cal over­haul will also be with­drawn.

The new com­pany will be 70%-owned by FirstGroup, which op­er­ates Great Western, Tran­sPen­nine Ex­press and Hull Trains. MTR will hold the re­main­ing 30%. MTR is ma­jor­ity-owned by the Hong Kong Gov­ern­ment. It pre­vi­ously ran Lon­don Over­ground (with Ar­riva) for Trans­port for Lon­don, and will op­er­ate Cross­rail ser­vices.

FirstGroup said the fran­chise would “not rely” on mov­ing to Driver Con­trolled Op­er­a­tion, the is­sue which has led to more than a year of strikes on neigh­bour­ing South­ern Rail­way. It is un­der­stood this was not a re­quire­ment of the De­part­ment for Trans­port’s ten­der process. All SWT ser­vices carry guards at present.

For the Isle of Wight ser­vices, First MTR com­mits only to “work with the coun­cil and other lo­cal bod­ies to de­velop a busi­ness plan and op­tion for a more sus­tain­able long-term fu­ture”.

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