IT’S all change for Woking area rail commuters from August as the South West Trains franchise is awarded to a new conglomerate which promises more rush hour seats and extra services.
The South Western Rail routes have been awarded to transport giants First Group and MTR, the Chinese company that runs the Hong Kong metro.
They have been operated by the Stagecoach Group since privatisation 20 years ago, will allow the new partnership to run the franchise for seven years, with the proviso that it improves punctuality and increases capacity on the region’s busy rail network.
Announcing the franchise award on Monday, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It was 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.”
The Government said that the new operators will oversee a £1.2 billion investment to improve journeys for millions of train passengers. The new franchise claims it will provide 22,000 extra seats into London Waterloo during each morning peak and 30,000 extra seats each evening peak, as well as a fleet of 90 new trains, providing more space for passengers on Reading, Windsor and London routes.
It also said there will be more frequent and additional services across the franchise, faster journeys across the network and earlier and later trains.
Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “We are proud to have operated the network under the South West Trains brand for more than 20 years and we are disappointed that we have been unsuccessful in our bid for the new franchise.”
Mick Cash, the general secretary of the RMT commented: “The Chinese company is set to ‘make a killing’ at the British taxpayers’ expense.”
Staff at SWT have been waiting months to find out who their new employer would be however, many expected Stagecoach would keep the franchise.
One employee at Woking station, who asked not to be named, told the News & Mail: “On the whole Stagecoach has been a good employer and I am proud to work for South West Trains.
“This is very sad and disappointing news. I know things can go wrong, but mostly they’ve always delivered what they said they would and that would have happened if they had continued to run the service after August. They have been very good to me since I joined.”
Regular commuter Erica Skilton, 52, said: “This news comes as no real surprise. All I want though is a seat, a train that runs on time and robust real time information. That said, I don’t think much will change regardless of who’s running it.
“They’re trying to run modern trains on a Victorian infrastructure which means that they are always going to have their work cut out. If they paint the trains pink they still won’t run any faster.”