South Western fran­chise.

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

Stagecoach op­er­ated the first train ser­vice of the pri­va­tised era when it com­menced op­er­a­tions on Fe­bru­ary 4 1996, and it has held the South West Trains fran­chise ever since. In its first year of op­er­a­tion there were 95 mil­lion pas­sen­ger jour­neys with rev­enue of £ 274 mil­lion, and a sub­sidy of £ 63m was paid by the then Of­fice of Pas­sen­ger Rail Fran­chis­ing.

To­day, the rolling stock that pas­sen­gers would still recog­nise are the Class 159 diesel units used on the route be­tween Water­loo and Ex­eter and the Class 455 elec­tric units di­a­grammed for use on sub­ur­ban ser­vices. Oth­er­wise the sub­stan­tial fleet of Mk 1 ve­hi­cles has gone, re­placed by the Siemens Class 444 and Class 450 units, as well as the Class 442 Wes­sex Elec­tric sets based on the suc­cess­ful Mk 3 coach.

The lat­ter rolling stock con­tin­ues to find favour - to pro­vide more ca­pac­ity, the fleet that is cur­rently in store is to be re­called for use on ser­vices be­tween Water­loo and Portsmouth.

Twenty years later the com­pa­ra­ble sta­tis­tics for 2015 re­flect a trans­for­ma­tion of op­er­a­tions car­ried out by the fran­chise. There are 238 mil­lion pas­sen­ger jour­neys with rev­enue of £1,044m, and Stagecoach made a pre­mium pay­ment to the De­part­ment for Trans­port of £ 380m. Its own profit was £ 20m, which is a tiny re­turn of 1.9% con­sid­er­ing the risks as­so­ci­ated with a busi­ness with this size of turnover.

De­spite value added per­for­mance that most cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions would envy, the in­cum­bent is to be dis­placed with a new con­tract awarded to a con­sor­tium of FirstGroup and the MTR Cor­po­ra­tion of Hong Kong. First MTR South West Trains - a mouth­ful that will surely be re­placed with a brand name - will com­mence op­er­a­tions on Au­gust 20 2017 for a pe­riod of seven years.

There were only two bid­ders in the com­pe­ti­tion for the new con­tract, and it is the ‘qual­ity’ el­e­ment of the First/MTR bid that is likely to have re­sulted in its suc­cess­ful out­come. In time we will know how the DfT scored the bids, but in the mean­time Stagecoach is ob­vi­ously ag­grieved that it has failed to re­tain op­er­at­ing rights af­ter such a long pe­riod of time.

It can be spec­u­lated that if there was lit­tle dif­fer­ence in the fi­nan­cial of­fer, then the break­down of the Deep Al­liance be­tween Stagecoach and Network Rail in 2015 was also a cause of mak­ing the change - the cur­rent Sec­re­tary of State is on a mis­sion to in­crease the level of in­te­grated man­age­ment of rail op­er­a­tions and in­fra­struc­ture.

A new at­tempt is be­ing made to pro­vide in­te­grated man­age­ment, and the DfT says the new fran­chise will fea­ture closer part­ner­ship work­ing be­tween track and train, pre­dom­i­nantly run by an in­te­grated lo­cal team of peo­ple with a com­mit­ment to the smooth op­er­a­tion of their routes. The Gov­ern­ment ex­pects the new fran­chise to work closer with Network Rail, with the shared aim of im­prov­ing day-to-day per­for­mance.

The fail­ure of the pre­vi­ous Al­liance, which ended two years be­fore the in­tended ter­mi­na­tion date, has never been ad­e­quately ex­plained. It is be­lieved NR be­came restive that it did not have suf­fi­cient con­trol of the ac­tiv­i­ties for which it was ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble, as there was no Route Di­rec­tor within the re­port­ing struc­ture. For the train op­er­a­tor, it is also known that the ap­proach to track ac­cess de­lay com­pen­sa­tion ar­range­ments cre­ated con­flict.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the com­mit­ment this time does not men­tion an Al­liance, seem­ingly recog­nis­ing that as sep­a­rate le­gal en­ti­ties the best that can be hoped for is that staff at sta­tions and de­pots might share the same mess­room.

In op­er­a­tional terms, the head­line change is the restora­tion of the Class 442 Wes­sex Elec­tric fleet for use on Portsmouth main line ser­vices, as well as the re­place­ment of ex­ist­ing rolling stock used on sub­ur­ban ser­vices with a new fleet of ( as yet) un­spec­i­fied trains.

Al­though the planned en­hance­ment of peak ser­vices at Water­loo will re­sult in 30,000 ad­di­tional seats in the evening peak, there has been a change in the way ca­pac­ity is mea­sured. Use of the num­ber of seats to mea­sure ser­vice de­liv­ery has been changed to pro­vid­ing more space.

There has been a re­al­i­sa­tion that a high- den­sity seat­ing lay­out with a 3+2 con­fig­u­ra­tion and re­duced seat pitch does not work well on in­ner-sub­ur­ban ser­vices.

The ef­fect has been to in­crease dwell time, and if sta­tion stops have to be longer the gains from run­ning longer trains are lost.

Pas­sen­gers are known to pre­fer stand­ing over short dis­tances if the suit­able space is avail­able, and there is the ben­e­fit of eas­ier ac­com­mo­da­tion for bi­cy­cles, wheel­chairs and those trav­el­ling with young chil­dren in pushchairs.

The 90 new trains that are to be in­tro­duced on the Read­ing and Wind­sor routes will re­place the age­ing fleet of Class 455 units that first ap­peared in 1982. There has been a pro­gramme of tech­ni­cal en­hance­ment with con­ver­sion to AC trac­tion mo­tors, so it must be con­cluded that it is the ap­proach to in­te­rior de­sign that has led to the fleet be­ing su­per­seded.

More sur­pris­ing is the re­place­ment of the Class 458 Al­stom Ju­niper units, which have been ex­ten­sively mod­i­fied to op­er­ate as five-car sets by in­cor­po­rat­ing ve­hi­cles from com­pat­i­ble Gatwick Ex­press Class 460 ve­hi­cles. This rolling stock is very much mid-life, with less than 20 years’ ser­vice use.

Of note is the fact that there is no ref­er­ence to the fu­ture train­crew ar­range­ments for the new ve­hi­cles, wisely avoid­ing any pre­ma­ture re­ac­tion to fu­ture in­ten­tions.

Many cus­tomer-led im­prove­ments are to be put in hand. These in­clude an in­vest­ment to mod­ernise Southamp­ton Cen­tral with a new-look en­trance, while at other sta­tions wait­ing rooms are to be re­fur­bished.

There are also tick­et­ing in­no­va­tions, with the in­tro­duc­tion of sea­son tick­ets that do not have to be used every day, a new smart­card au­to­mat­i­cally of­fer­ing the cheap­est walk-up fare, a dis­count scheme for stu­dents, and mo­bile phone bar­code tick­ets that will be avail­able for the first time. De­lay re­pay com­pen­sa­tion will also be ap­plied if there are de­lays ex­ceed­ing 15 min­utes.

It is right to ask why the fran­chise con­tract is so short, given that there will be £1.2 bil­lion of new in­vest­ment, of which £ 80m will be di­rected funded by the train op­er­at­ing com­pany.

“The fail­ure of the pre­vi­ous Al­liance, which ended two years be­fore the in­tended ter­mi­na­tion date, has never been ad­e­quately ex­plained.”

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