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Govia takes over Thameslink franchise from FCC on Sunday

From Sunday 14 September Govia is to start running services on what will become the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise, in the first phase of the new Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) TOC’s operations.

Its new franchise is the UK’s largest in terms of passenger numbers, services, and revenue. The basis of the GTR franchise is a management contract, which means that Govia passes the ticket revenues directly to the government rather than the company retaining the revenue.

In July 2015 the Southern and Gatwick Express routes will be incorporated into GTR, and a small number of services and stations currently operated by Southeastern will transfer to the franchise in December 2014.

GTR route summary map

As part of the deal, there will be £430m worth of investment in the GTR franchise during its seven-year term, bringing significant improvements for passengers. Benefits include rolling out nearly 1,400 new Siemens-built Class 700 carriages across the new franchise, providing 50% more capacity and 10,000 extra seats every weekday into central London during the morning peak by the end of 2018, and delivering quicker, cleaner and more reliable journeys for passengers and businesses.

Charles Horton, GTR’s chief executive, who has moved over from Southeastern, said: “I’m very excited to be leading the team dedicated to running the UK’s biggest franchise. Over time we will be making real improvements to passengers’ experience and managing the major changes that are happening on this part of the rail network.

“We’ve listened to what people want, and will be increasing capacity on busy commuter services, improving reliability and punctuality, introducing three new fleets of trains, spending £50m on station improvements, and investing in our employees' training and development.”

When the contract was awarded to Govia in May it beat competition from First Capital Connect (FCC), which has been running the franchise since 2006, Abellio, MTR, and Stagecoach.

At the time of the announcement, then rail minister Stephen Hammond said: “The TSGN franchise will play a crucial role in delivering the government’s £6.5bn Thameslink programme. New tunnels will link Peterborough and Cambridge to the existing Thameslink route providing easy access across London via St Pancras to Gatwick and Brighton.”

Tough challenges

However, the government noted that the TSGN franchisee will face tough challenges, such as delivering services which effectively manage passenger demand throughout the period of reconstruction of London Bridge station; bringing into service a new fleet of trains, equipped with new technology, to deliver additional capacity for passengers; and managing the integration of other franchises’ services (that is, FCC, Southern and some Southeastern) into this combined franchise.

In response, Horton said: “There’s no underestimating the challenge of the task ahead. But I’m confident that we have the people and the plans in place to make a real difference to the service we give our passengers, and that for our staff GTR will be a great place to work."

Currently, the Thameslink and Great Northern routes connect important regional centres north and south of London such as Peterborough, Cambridge, Bedford, Luton, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton. The services have direct rail links to Gatwick and Luton airports, and to Eurostar at St Pancras International. And from 2018 trains to Farringdon station will connect with Crossrail, bringing fast links to Heathrow, Canary Wharf and central London.

Livery and branding

The livery and branding of the new trains is not yet clear: Mark Bowerbank took this photo of a Class 319 painted white with red doors, but this is most likely a preliminary ‘de-branding’ of the old FCC colours.

Branding at the stations is being converted too. As one poster at the Rail UK Forums website, causton, explained: “Hatfield is now fully GTR branded, with Connections leaflets (basically the same as the GTR website contents at the moment) in stock, stacks of FCC ticket wallets for anyone who still wants them, GN posters replacing the FCC ones I saw this morning, FCC just about removed from existence! The only trace of the operators is on CCTV signage...!”

Union protests at driver-only operation

Rail union RMT, together with sister union Aslef, is holding a protest at Blackfriars station on the morning of Monday 15 September.

They are angry that the government has awarded the franchise on the basis of extending driver-only operation, cutting station staffing and closing ticket offices. They claim this jeopardises both the safety of the travelling public and the livelihood of their members.

RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “Monday’s protest marks the beginning of a rolling campaign opposing the new franchise’s proposals for driver-only operation and the sacking and reducing of the role of train guards and conductors, station de-staffing and the closure of ticket offices.

“Privatisation of the railways has been a total disaster. Rather than creating a new super-franchise the government should be bringing this essential service back under public control,” he added.

Details of the new franchise

In a presentation on its website, Govia gives more details of its plans for rolling stock:

  • New trains for Gatwick Express (by 2016). 108 vehicles (27 x 4 car) specifically designed for the service and including free wi-fi
  • New Metro trains for Moorgate services in 2018. 150 new high capacity vehicles (25 x 6 car)
  • 1,140 new Siemens Class 700 vehicles for Thameslink routes (2016-2018)
  • Introduction of newer trains (Class 377) on Cambridge and Kings Lynn route (by 2017)

Proposed 2018 Thameslink service pattern

That presentation also details the wider benefits the operator hopes to introduce:

  • 26% more morning peak vehicles into central London
  • 10,000 more seats and 50% more passenger-carrying capacity
  • More 12-car trains through new Class 700 Siemens fleet operating through Thameslink core
  • New six car trains for Moorgate services with high capacity Metro environment, new Gatwick Express
  • 12-car trains in peak
  • More than doubling of overall capacity from
  • Cambridge to London by 2018
  • Longer trains for Uckfield when cascaded diesel stock available

From December 2015:

Brighton Main Line recast to benefit south of Victoria, London Bridge and Elephant and Castle earlier than planned, providing:

• significantly improving performance and delay recovery

• services with more evenly spaced intervals

• reduced journey times from London to Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne, Portsmouth, outhampton, Worthing, Littlehampton, Bognor Regis and Hastings

• restoration of four direct services per hour from Bedford to Gatwick Airport

• extension of two Gatwick Express services to Brighton in each hour

• new off-peak services from Redhill and Purley to Thameslink core

From 2017/2018:

• Introduction of two trains per hour from London Kings Cross to Kings Lynn (May 2017)

• Completion of Thameslink Programme in 2018 will see up to 24 trains per hour through the central core

• Range of new direct journey opportunities including Cambridge to Brighton via Gatwick, and Peterborough to Horsham via Gatwick. More trains to Cambridge

• Increased off-peak frequencies to Hertford North and Welwyn Garden City (four trains per hour)

• More services to Moorgate in the peak, providing further capacity relief


Improving train performance

• Entering into an Alliance arrangement with Network Rail, with the creation (by 2016) of joint teams to manage performance and reliability across the whole railway operation

• Brighton Main Line timetable restructuring in December 2015 will assist addressing deep-seated performance challenges

• Govia’s international experience from Keolis and SNCF will assist in ensuring reliable use of Automatic Train Operation

(Top image shows the Siemens launch of its Class 700s earlier this year, with mocked-up Thameslink livery. Image: DfT).

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