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.”