Posted 27th March 2017 | 19 Comments

First, MTR beat Stagecoach to win South West Trains

THE South West Trains franchise has been won by a consortium of FirstGroup and MTR.

The new contract will start on 20 August and run for ‘at least’ seven years, and in that time premiums worth a total of £2.6 billion at present values will be paid to the government.

The decision by the Department for Transport ends more than 20 years of control by Stagecoach Group, which ran the first franchised train in Britain early on 4 February 1996. Stagecoach Group said it was ‘disappointed’ to have lost the bid, although it had failed to come to terms with the DfT over the details of a Direct Award which could have extended the present franchise by two years, to 2019.

The contract includes new rolling stock. The first tranche, consisting of 150 Siemens Class 707 vehicles, is now coming into service and should have been fully delivered by the end of this year.

Beyond that, the new franchise will be leasing a further 750 vehicles, which it is hoped will be in service by 2020.

FirstGroup’s managing director for rail Steve Montgomery told Railnews that talks have been underway with at least two rolling stock manufacturers, and that these discussions will now continue. He added that a major programme of refurbishment will be launched for the existing fleets and that the average age of the fleet will have been halved by 2020.

Free Wifi will be universal on trains and stations, with bandwidth up to five times greater than now.

Other plans include £90m worth of station upgrades, particularly at Southampton Central, and electric car charging points at 60 stations. There are also plans to involve communities in making use of redundant buildings at smaller stations.

There will be timetable improvements. The DfT said journeys will be faster, cutting eight minutes from the time between Southampton and London, five minutes faster from Portsmouth, 10 minutes faster from Reading, 12 minutes faster from Hounslow and 11 minutes faster from Salisbury.

There will be earlier first and later last trains, including the lines between London and Twickenham, Hounslow, Windsor, Reading, Epsom, Guildford, Portsmouth and Salisbury. Sunday services will be increased, with many routes ‘having the equivalent of a Saturday service’ after 13.00.

The Delay Repay trigger will come down to 15 minutes, and there will be greater use of smartcards.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “Following on from our announcement on the start of the South Eastern Franchise consultation, this deal is more great news for rail passengers.

“First MTR South Western Trains Limited will deliver the improvements that people tell us they want right across the South Western franchise area, from Bristol and Exeter, to Southampton and Portsmouth, to Reading, Windsor and London.  

“We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century and this franchise will deliver real changes for passengers, who can look forward to modern trains, faster journeys and a more reliable service.”

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole said he was ‘delighted’. He continued: “Our successful bid will deliver the tangible improvements that customers and stakeholders have told us they want from this franchise. Passengers can look forward to new and better trains, more seats and services, quicker journey times, improved stations and more flexible fare options.”

Stagecoach has run the SWT franchise since it began in February 1996 as one of the first two privatised passenger operators.

Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths said: "We are proud to have operated the network for more than 20 years and we are disappointed that we have been unsuccessful in our bid for the new franchise.

"Over the past two decades, we have delivered real improvements for our customers right across the network. That success has been built on fantastic people, detailed knowledge of the business and strong relationships with our stakeholders and railway partners. But we have never thought our job was finished.

"We believe we submitted a strong bid. We will be seeking detailed feedback from the Department for Transport.”


Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Jan, Orpington

    TBH my one concern is will this new consortium supply the fantastic service we currently get for disabled passengers. My daughter has to travel from Orpington to London Bridge or Charing Cross and you cannot fault the service offered by all staff. The ramp is always available , they always radio ahead and are always able and willing to help her. I only feel confident to have her travelling on her own on this line No other line we travel comes anywhere near this level of service and don't get me started on Virgin West Coast lack of service. It is a huge worry especially with the introduction of guardless trains

  • david tresarden, romford

    So MTR/First have ambitious plans to cut journey times on their main line services to Salisbury Southampton. Portsmouth etc.4 FAST trains London - Portsmouth on what is essentially a two-track railway S. of Woking,(apart from the Guildford and Haslemere station loops). What will happen to the slow services which cannot be overtaken apart from at these two points? The current timetable is designed to eliminate, where possible, conflicting moves at Woking so any plans for reduction in journey times will need to take this into account. I cannot see how journey times can be improved on any service without withdrawing intermediate stops, given current infrastructure restraints.

  • Melvyn, Canvey Island , Essex

    News on another site suggests that the new First MTR franchise no longer wants the new Class 707 trains which are about to be delivered for SWT saying these trains don't match those it plans to order.

    Surprisingly this news has not yet reached the media and it begs the question as to the reaction of SWT users when the hear that a fleet of new trains which will increase capacity is being rejected by the new franchise.

    It also raises the question as to why this decision was not revealed in the tender bid ?

    Of course Class 707 trains Vader sistber units to Class 700 and so could be added to Thameslink services and maybe even be used to extend Bedford services to Corby when that electrification is complete.
    [If these reports are right (and there is no official confirmation yet) the 707s would need some upgrading before joining the Thameslink fleet. They are 750V DC only, I understand.--Editor.]

  • jambo, Colchester

    I can't understand all the negative comments here. If they do what they say they will, in four years time there will be
    1. 30% increase in capacity
    2. Half the services will be faster
    3. Smart ticketing, automatic compensation and a good standard of Wifi
    4. Better standard of trains

    It may not be seen as doing anything radical (although perhaps the massive reduction in dwell times required in the ITT could be seen as such), but it does sound transformative.

  • James Dawkins, Sheffield

    People who dismiss renationalisation on the basis of what BR used to be, may I suggest that instead of looking 25 years into the past, you should look at what SNCF, Deutsche Bahn, Renfe, Trenitalia, Swiss Railways etc, etc... are doing NOW.

    [Having looked, I will stifle my gasps of admiration, particularly in France. TGVs are good, the rest often much less so. German stations can be fairly utilitarian, while too many in Belgium are stark wastelands served by graffiti-covered trains -- even Bruxelles Midi is pretty depressing. Antwerpen Centraal, Milano Centrale -- these are examples of remarkable, even beautiful, stations, but they are exceptions. Swiss Railways maintain very high performance by inserting extended station stops.--Editor.]

  • CW_BA12, Gillimgham, Dorset.

    I'm completely baffled by this; I'm not a fan of privatisation, but SWT have maintained a good service, extended routes, tried integrated network control with Network Rail (I'm not clear why that ended?), been novel in it's approach, improved stations, improved passenger information, and been engaged.
    GWR have: higher fares; older rolling stock; shabby stations; shabby rolling stock; poor information panels....

    So, why have First been rewarded?

    [Past performance can be a factor, but the main test in DfT franchise competitions is what the bidders are offering now.--Editor.]

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Sorry for having three biites at the cherry here,but I think it is interesting that James Dawkins makes the point about the desirability of competition on the same route, with a number of different offerings to potential passengers.

    There does seem to be one main intercity rouute that already fulfils this ideal
    - London to Birmingham, with Virgin, Chiltern and London Midland all offering their own distinctive product to suit different needs / requirements.

    I hope other principal services could have a similar structure , too.

    [I suggest it is many, many years since there was any competition between the Paddington and Waterloo routes to Exeter. The two lines now serve different purposes since the Southern line was downgraded and largely singled west of Salisbury.--Editor.]

  • jak jaye, surrey

    Yet another example of the farce that is railway today,methinks this is First Groups 'reward' for losing the WCML franchise to Branson and why is nothing done about that other failed franchise GTR ?.
    Southern punters have always looked across at the vastly more efficient SWT
    at stations such as London's Clapham Junction with envy
    Time to get a rail minister who talks tough and delivers tough instead of the long line of 'do nothings' we get.
    They just haven't a clue.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Most responses seem to see this as another debacle, stemming from the flawed franchising setup.

    A rail commentator described this as "pretend capitalism", a system that effectively suppresses enterprise, innovation , investment , and long- term thinking. We need a rethought structure, but please, not old fashioned nationalisation (I am able to remember BR back to 1948 }.

  • Robert Roy, London

    So we are to have First Group & MTR running the South West Franchise. This is total folley as anyone using GWR services from Paddington will tell you.Stagecoach were already working to improve capacity problems with longer trains & brand new rolling stock coming on line. Shouldn't they have been given a chance to complete the job.? And to change the franchise in the middle of the Waterloo shutdown in August is sheer madness!
    Do we really need Chinese state money when we always banging on about their Human Rights?

  • James Dawkins, Sheffield

    So the whole of southern England west of London is now under the yoke of First. S'pose it could be worse if Govia had taken the helm... But for privatisation to work, there has to be direct competition, which currently does exist between SWT and GWR on some services (e.g. London - Reading / Bristol / Exeter). Not for much longer.

    Personally, I'd favour more competition along the same routes, with several companies offering the best 'deal' for the same overall journey. You could have a fancier, non-stop service with more first class provision, and a slower, cheaper option with just cattle class carriages. EMT, Northern and TPX all run the Sheffield - Manchester route, although each service offers something slightly different in train comfort, intermediate stops and final destinations. The price isn't any different, mind, which is odd given the Northern train takes almost twice as long, and the EMT is much more prone to overcrowding. Northern should be the cheaper option, since it's much slower and the trains are utter rubbish.

    This is how it works in other countries like France, where even though it's all SNCF, the quicker, more comfortable TGV costs more than the same journey (e.g. Paris - Tours) taken on a slower, older Intercités train. There are even low-cost TGVs now: Ouigo, which operate using the same high speed trains, but with a no-frills / cram 'em in service and linking less popular stations, for instance Paris (Charles de Gaulle) to Lyon (Saint-Exupéry). It's a pretty basic concept in market economics - you get what you pay for.

    Of course, it would all just be immaterial if privatisation were rightly knocked on the head and the whole lot were renationalised. No more GWR or SWT (though we could keep the nostalgic names perhaps!), just British Railways. It works everywhere else in Europe; it can work here.

  • Melvyn, Canvey Island , Essex

    So much for Privatisation creating competition given that both GWR and SWT are now largely controlled by First Group !

    While commuters within Greater London will not benefit from the fares freeze Mayor Khan has introduced on TFL services making it more and more attractive for some commuters to switch to TFL services. Especially when Elizabeth Line opens .

    I also notice that while users of Greater Anglia will get a totally new fleet of trains this franchise will only replace some trains .

    While details of new trains has not yet been revealed it will be interesting to see if any hybrid trains are ordered which can use 3rd rail electrification then diesel operation on line to Exeter .

    Yet again we have a short franchise meaning there is no incentive for long term investment and raise the question as to whether it's time for stations in Greater London to be transferred to Mayoral control via TFL just like plans to transfer stations in Greater Manchester.

  • The Colonel, Basingstoke

    Faster journey times? That can only be by running non-stop which is clearly to the detriment of stations like Petersfield, Haslemere, Winchester, Basingstoke, Andover and Woking. All of which have thousands of regular passengers that can struggle to get a seat during the peak as things stand now.

    Does this mean we can add Worst South Western as well as Worst Late Western?

  • John B, London

    The Island Line should be given over to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. There's no sound commercial justification for operating public services.

  • Chris Wood, York

    If I was a paint or vinyl supplier somewhere in Home Counties South West, I'd now be rubbing my hands with glee...

  • Noam Bleicher, Oxford

    Andrew, the Island Line hasn't a hope in hell of operating on an Open Access basis as receipts are a few mill less than operating costs. It can only survive as part of the larger franchise, which is why islanders campaigned strongly for it to remain so.

  • Christopher Jones-Bridger, Buckley

    I'm sure Stagecoach will be sorely disappointed to loose their original & flagship franchise. That it came to a two horse race with First says much for the shortcomings of the whole franchise process.

    It will be interesting to see the reaction of the competition authorities given this will now give First a monopoly on the West of England business.

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet, Essex

    So what will happen to the Island Line. Will that be separated to operate as its own "Open Access" franchise and South West Trains could be rebranded as Southwestern Trains with more Class 707's to be delivered.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    It appears we've got yet another short (7 year) franchise where it isn't worth the franchisee's while to do anything innovatory or fundamental. And what appears to be the involvement of another foreign state organisation with first duty to their own population.

    Oh dear !