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SWR to renegotiate future timetables with DfT for 'maximum benefit' to customers

The future of South Western Railway (SWR) services will be renegotiated with the DfT as the company looks to implement changes to future timetables to ensure minimal disruption for customers.

According to documents from the ORR, the operator— FirstGroup plc— and the government are on different pages over whether promises made under the franchise deal could be delivered.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling awarded the SWR franchise to First MTR, a joint venture between FirstGroup and Hong Kong-based MTR, which took over from South West Trains.

Under the deal, First MTR aimed to bring 750 new train carriages online for the Windsor, Reading and London suburban routes by December 2020, with as much as £1.2bn due to be invested in better journeys. The JV promised that the average age of the entire fleet of SWR trains would come down by almost half by the end of 2020, whilst providing 46% more peak capacity on routes.

Since First MTR received the contract, however, services have been marred by a series of cancellations, delays, and industrial action from RMT.

SWR recorded a 7.9% fall in passenger demand in the past year— equivalent to as much as 18 million fewer customers. The operator has also been in a weeks-long wrangle with strike action over the employment of guards on trains. In April, a probe was launched into SWR’s performance following Grayling expressing disappointment over the state of the service.

In March, an ORR document said there were “several important issues” outstanding with SWR’s application, including the “increase in the quantum of services proposed and the impact of the increase of engineering access times, performance and level crossing risks.”

“Recent correspondence between Network Rail and SWR has highlighted there are several important issues outstanding with SWR’s application,” the letter said.

“These cover a wide range of areas including the increase in the quantum of services proposed and the impact of the increase on engineering access times, performance and level crossing risks and whether adequate power supplies will be available.”

A spokesperson for FirstGroup said: "On 9 July, a national rail industry decision was announced to defer December 2018 timetable changes for several train operators, including SWR. This approach was adopted due to problems encountered with the May timetable elsewhere, and to make sure that future changes can be introduced smoothly across the country.

"This deferment of the planned timetable is a significant and unforeseen change to the circumstances initially envisaged in the SWR contract. As is normal with any contract variation, we will work through the commercial and contractual implications of this change.

"As part of this work, SWR will develop plans with Network Rail and the Department for Transport to implement the changes to future timetables and ensure maximum benefit with minimal disruption to customers.

"We are fully committed to the SWR franchise and we look forward to realising the planned benefits for passengers of our investment in a new fleet including new services and longer, faster and more reliable trains with more seats."


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