South Western Railway launches its new brand and livery… but points failures mean first train is 15 minutes late.
South Western Railway launched its new brand and livery at an event in Waterloo’s former International Terminal on September 4. The first rebranded Class 444 Desiro (444040) arrived in new blue, striped white and silver.
The formal launch of the new franchise had been delayed for a fortnight, to ensure it was not connected with Network Rail’s partial closure of Waterloo station to extend platforms ready for longer trains ( RAIL 833/834).
However, signal and points failures related to the upgrade severely disrupted schedules. It meant the first train arrived 15 minutes late, as Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling stood waiting with leaders of FirstGroup and MTR, which had jointly taken over the franchise on August 20.
SWR Managing Director Andy Mellors said: “There are huge challenges running this railway, and this train came in late. We have to get this railway running better than it does, and I think today demonstrates what we need to do to deliver a better service for our customers.”
Network Rail said that as well as points and signal failures, performance was affected by two train breakdowns.
The launch coincided with strikes by the RMT union on Southern, Merseyrail and Northern over changes to the role of guards. The union is also preparing a strike ballot over the same issue at the new franchise - it is demanding that the company adheres to a 1998 agreement with predecessor Stagecoach to keep a second safety-critical member of staff on every train throughout its tenure.
SWR has promised to keep a guard on every train, including on new suburban rolling stock which will be equipped for Driver Controlled Operation. The company has not specified the competencies of the guards on those services.
Grayling is a regular commuter on South Western Railway from his Surrey constituency. He said: “The RMT here is pursuing an agenda that has nothing to do with interests of passengers or the railway. The number of staff is going to increase, and South
Western Railway has already made it clear it is going to keep a guard on every train, which is supposedly what the RMT is demanding.”
Mellors said he would be meeting RMT leaders later this month to understand why they were planning a strike ballot.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has given repeated opportunities for First MTR to give the assurances we have sought over the future role of guards. They have refused to give us those guarantees.”
As well as showing off the new livery, SWR announced 100,000 half-price advance tickets for passengers. The special fares could only be booked through the operator’s website, and were for travel up to October 3.
SWR is promising more and faster services, with £1.2 billion investment over the seven-year franchise ( 833/834).
The company is now operating a Delay Repay scheme for the first time, with compensation for passengers arriving more than 30 minutes late. That would have included many at the launch.
Having been used for the South Western Railway launch, 444040 approaches Basingstoke on September 4, with the 1242 London Waterloo-Northam Depot. It is the first time a Class 444 has worn anything other than the now defunct SWT livery carried from new back in 2004-05.