MTR to takeover service alongside First Group with improvements promised
The operator of the Hong Kong Metro, MTR, is to take over the operation of the South West Trains service along with First Group from this August.
First MTR South Western Trains Limited has been awarded a franchise by the Department for Transport which will run for 7 years from 20 August 2017, taking over from current operator Stagecoach Group.
One of the operating company’s major shareholders is MTR which runs the mass transit system in Hong Kong. They are to run the network in partnership with First Group who already run train services out of Paddington.
The government say that under the new franchise there will be closer working between the operator and Network Rail which will improve the reliability of the routes. Among the improvements promised as a result of the deal will be a 12 minute reduction in the journey time between Hounslow and London Waterloo as well as earlier and later trains on this route and others such as trains from Twickenham and Reading.
Sunday services are to be upgraded with many routes having the equivalent of a Saturday service after 1.00pm.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, “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.”
First MTR South Western Trains Limited will oversee a £1.2 billion investment. Among the improvements promised are 22,000 extra seats into London Waterloo each morning peak and 30,000 extra seats out of Waterloo each evening peak, a fleet of 90 new trains, providing more space for passengers on Reading, Windsor and London routes, refurbished existing trains with charging sockets, new seat covers and refurbished toilets, and more frequent and additional services across the franchise.
The new franchise will also see First MTR South Western Trains Limited offer more than 100 apprenticeships each year. Passengers are promised better information throughout their journey, on-board trains, on platforms and through a new mobile phone app, including live information on seating availability and crowding levels, so that they know the best place to stand to board the train.
There will be new delay repay compensation, including for delays of 15 minutes or more, and with automatic claims for smart card season tickets and advance purchased tickets bought in advance through their digital channels, plus free wifi at all stations and on-board mainland trains. A new smart card will automatically offer the cheapest walk-up single or day return fare and there will be new flexible season tickets, offering a discount for passengers travelling fewer than 5 days a week and a new discount for purchasing 12 consecutive monthly season tickets. There will also be a new student connect smart ticket for 16 to 18-year-olds, offering a third off weekly or longer tickets, and further term-time discounts for under 16s
Mobile phone barcode tickets will be available on the network for the first time.
FirstGroup Chief Executive Tim O’Toole said, ‘We are delighted that our partnership with MTR has been selected by the DfT to run the South Western rail franchise, a key part of the country’s railway network which millions of people rely on every day. 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.
Jeremy Long, CEO, European Business, MTR Corporation said, “We look forward to working with FirstGroup to provide a best-in-class travel experience for passengers in London and the South West. Together we will deliver a major programme of upgrades, including improvements to both rail services and customer experience, for passengers travelling across the South Western network.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said, "Once again the Government have refused to consider the public sector option for a major rail franchise and instead it's a foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, which is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers expense."
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,”
March 28, 2017