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RMT slams ‘crazy’ First MTR decision to drop new £200m SWT trains

First MTR is reported to be abandoning £200m worth of carriages that are being built in Germany – a decision that union RMT has described “crazy” as it called on the government to undertake an investigation into the decision.

The company, which is a partnership between FirstGroup and Hong Kong firm MTR, was awarded the South Western franchise on Monday, but now has allegedly dropped plans for 150 carriages that were ordered in 2014 from Siemens and is instead commissioning new trains on a cheaper annual lease.

First MTR hopes that the new carriages will be rolled out onto the network from 2019.

The operator must deliver 90 new trains and 750 new carriages for the franchise – which it takes over from Stagecoach on 20 August – by the end of 2020.

The RMT has called the situation a “fiasco” and demanded information from the operator about the operational number of the new rolling stock, and for First MTR to reveal what impact the change will have on rail services, safety and the union’s members.

In a statement, general secretary Mick Cash said that First MTR’s decision was another “cast-iron example of the crazy world of rail privatisation”, and called on the government to undertake an urgent investigation into the commissioning process for the rolling stock.

“No one even knows what is going to happen to the dumped rolling stock and what the cost of this fiasco is going to be,” Cash argued. “This is a scandal of huge proportions and comes just days after First MTR muscled their way into the action on this franchise.

“If the government think they can wash their hands of this shambles then they need to think again. The whole debacle nails down the arguments as to why we need public ownership of our railways to end this carnival of chaos.”

RTM has contacted First MTR and Siemens for comment, but at the time of publication had received no reply.

The DfT told the BBC: “First MTR has committed to deliver 750 new carriages by the end of 2020 which will offer more space and improve journeys for passengers on the Windsor, Reading and London suburban routes.

“It is for First MTR South Western to decide how it uses its trains.”

Top Image: Siemens

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Lee   31/03/2017 at 12:03

Fairly typical hysterical language from the RMT, but they have a point - it seems completely ridiculous that trains about to be introduced are to be abandoned. Given that someone will have to pay for them, who the hell picks up the tab, and what use will they be in future? It also seems crazy that First want to dump the 455s, which are in the midst of traction upgrades, are amongst the best suburban trains in the country, and in very good condition, despite their age.

Martin T   31/03/2017 at 12:36

Of course, the RMT's real concern is the government's requirement for the new operator to speed up services by reducing station dwell time, which means the driver opening and (probably) closing the doors.

Helmsman   31/03/2017 at 13:22

Who will bear the loss? The 707s cost £210m to build; Angel Trains (the lessor) would presumably borrow to finance the deal and it would take x number of years to pay back the capital cost through leasing charges. Looks like that won't happen now. If Angel can't find other uses for the stock they will be lumbered with them. Will be a double whammy - there will be no income from leasing charges but the stock will still have to be stabled and maintained while it is in existence. I thought rolling stock procurement was supposed to be part of the franchising process. Who got it wrong: Angel or DfT? Talk about lack of joined up thinking . . .

Rodger Bradley   31/03/2017 at 14:34

I am guessing that First Group/MTR is simply trying to reduce the cost of running trains - or does the franchise now require the train operator to reduce the need for UK Government subsidy? Maybe, this is, as usual just another failure of the ludicrous way in which the UK applied the directive on separation of operations from infrastructure. The fragmentation and bureaucratic manner in which UK train operations is now run has simply added to both cost and complexity, with limited benefit to passenger or freight hauliers.

Mike Guerra   31/03/2017 at 15:08

It is entirely possible that First MTR have been talking to GTR about the appalling reliability of TL Siemens CLass 700s which are currently the least reliable trains in the UK at ~4000km per failure. According to GTR they are mostly software related, and I suppose they can always get better with the 707s (and 717s for the Moorgate services. It has to be remembered that DfT specified and ordered them, not the TOC. The 700s are good moving at commuters (wide doors) but are not comfortable, with the hardest seats since pre-war timber slats. They have good acceleration for good time-keeping, but if they keep failing in the way that they have perhaps First MTR have a point. Not sure what their alternative will be though. Not sure that the RMT were correct in their response to this announcement, but perhaps they are reflecting on their avowed efforts to overthrow the Conservative government!

Huguenot   31/03/2017 at 15:12

Who ordered the trains, then? It's much better if a new franchisee orders new trains as it then gets what it wants and needs. Look at the fiasco of the Class 800s, ordered prematurely by the DfT, and now not up to the job because they can't keep to HST timings in diesel mode. Let's hope that First MTR orders new trains from Bombardier -- at least there is then a chance that they will be built in the UK. Oh, and they must have DCO/DOO capability, too. As for what to do with the Siemens trains, I suppose that they could be built for 25KV instead and used on the MML between London and Corby when that is electrified. Can they be uprated for 110mph like the Class 350s?

Andrew Gwilt   31/03/2017 at 15:24

And Stadler Flirt EDMU's (Bi-Mode) trains to be built for the London-Norwich intercity route and regional rural services in East Anglia such as the East Suffolk Lines (Ipswich-Lowestoft and Ipswich-Felixstowe Lines), Ipswich–Ely Line and Ipswich-Cambridge Lines, Bittern Line (Norwich-Sheringham and Cromer Line), Wherry Lines (Norwich-Great Yarmouth and Norwich-Lowestoft Lines), Breckland Line (Norwich-Ely Line) and Ely–Peterborough Line (to be named as Hareware Line) and Gainsborough line (Marks Tey-Sudbury Line) in Essex.

David   31/03/2017 at 15:25

I just hope that the trains that MTR want to introduce will not having seating like that on London Overground or the underground.

Andrew G   31/03/2017 at 15:25


Lee   31/03/2017 at 15:42

Martin T - It really is about time DOO/DCO was at least considered for the SWT suburban routes - all their guards currently do is shut themselves in cabs in the middle of trains and they *never* circulate among passengers. Unfortunately, SWT made a "we'll keep guards forever" pledge early in their existence, and that's certainly going to make the future painful. I wouldn't be surprised if they end up with a major dispute on their hands very quickly.

Bob   31/03/2017 at 16:14

It is really odd this happening, but I suspect that the leasing costs were too high for First MTR to make their bid viable. What I will say is that the 707's have the option of a Pantograph. If I was Angel Trains and Siemens, I would be looking at trying at other markets - and making my trains as flexible as possible. Remember that the Desiro's can be made into either Diesel, 25kV or Third Rail. Think about who else might want new trains [East Midland Trains, Great Western, ScotRail or even Arriva Train Wales]. There's a market; maybe everybody needs to think outside the box.

John Grant   31/03/2017 at 16:14

"SWT made a 'we'll keep guards forever' pledge early in their existence" -- maybe that's why they lost the franchise? The story says the new franchisee will be looking for a cheaper leasing deal but it doesn't actually say they wn't be the same physical trains. I agree with Huguenot that a franchisee ordering trains that won't be in service before the end of their franchise is crazy.

SWT Commuter   31/03/2017 at 17:26

Can't believe that why First MTR SouthWestern Trains will not allow the Class 707's to operate on the Waterloo-Windsor service from April unless only 1tph is used and they also want to ditch the Class 458/5's aswell. They have ruined the Southwest rail franchise. I much prefer that Stagecoach could of extend their contract to maintain the SWT franchises for 9-10 years more and to allow the Class 707's to start operating on the Windsor line with all 30 Class 707's to be delivered throughout this year. Before Siemens start manufacturing the Class 717's for Great Northern to be used on the Moorgate Line to replace the Class 313's that could be destined for Southern Coastway services as the current Class 313's are currently operated on the West Coastway and East Coastway services to/from Brighton. #BringBackStagecoachSouthWestTrainsFranchise

Andrew Gwilt   31/03/2017 at 17:28

Why was my 1st comment deleted?! Was it too much and not relevant. Why RTM?! Absolute joke you really are RTM. Is that why you want me banned!!

Jimbo   31/03/2017 at 19:08

Firstly, this story has not yet been confirmed, so a little less hysteria is called for. First/MTR cannot comment at the moment until the 10-day cooling off period passes. Secondly, what the f**k has this got to do with the RMT ? Are they now the industry experts on train procurement as well as safety, or just the people with the biggest mouth.

Jimbo   31/03/2017 at 19:12

@Andrew Gwilt - RTM doesn't have to take your comments - it is their site, not yours, and they can do as they please. As it is, there is a comment above from you about lines in East Anglia, which is nothing to do with this discussion and just appears to be little more than a list of lines. Do you think people talking about the 707's are interested in a list of lines in East Anglia ?

James Miller   31/03/2017 at 21:18

When SWT no-one had any idea of the reliability of the 700s, let alone the 707s. Now that must be well-known and MTR will have had detailed reports on the performance of the 345s now testing for Crossrail. I have this feeling that Aventras are a lot more sophisticated than the 700s. If you read articles on the Crossrail power supply in Rail Engineer, it would appear there is no obvious back up system in case of power failure. As Crossrail don't want 1,500 people to panic, it leads me to the conclusion that Aventras have a battery big enough for train recovery. As an electrical engineer, it would be more efficient to use the battery to handle regenerative braking. I feel that electricity for a 345 is much less than a 700. I've also analysed the SWT timetables and a lot of out-and-back timings are awkward, when it comes to effdicient use of trains. Trains which are a bit faster and can save a minute or so a stop mean you can do services with less trains. So pehaps First MTR have done all the sums and are going elsewhere for a new fleet. There's someone out there doing a whole lot of excellent calculations on fleet size. After analysing the Class 319 Flex train, I have a feeling that similar processes have been applied.

Isleworthian   31/03/2017 at 21:26

SWT have their faults but at least they have been innovative in running a train service. The re-casting of Waterloo services was a major success and led to sustained improvements. Leaving aside their stubborn attitude over the Porstmouth services they have made the best use of their rolling stock. The 455s have given many years of reliable service, were refurbished with the approval of their users and cost peanuts to run. It makes you wonder if First/MTR were aware of this or whether they choose to ignore it. The 450s provide decent seating as do the 458s. Although I wasn't looking forward to the 707s at least seating can always be changed. First/MTR should take note of this and not ignore passenger comfort. I'm sure Chris Grayling's constituents won't thank him if First/MTR messes up a good service.

Helmsman   31/03/2017 at 23:04

The DfT has confirmed that all of SW's (Porterbrook leased) Class 455s, 456s & 458s are to be withdrawn by December 2020 as well. The intention is to create a new homogenous fleet (one class instead of four), which I suppose makes sense. Also, that First MTR is capitalising on lower leasing charges now prevailing. These must substantial indeed for First MTR to make a move of this kind.

Andrew Gwilt   31/03/2017 at 23:07

@Jimbo. Well the Class 707's can operate on AC 25kv Overhead if First MTR does not want the Class 707's.

Mike   01/04/2017 at 09:22

I have to say I have big concerns over this. I live in Basingstoke and commute to London Waterloo and have to say the service is expensive but reliable. My season ticket also allows travel via Reading into London Paddington. Without exception, there are problems when I go via Reading! I know it's comparing apples to pairs, but it doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about what is to come. It seems whomever awarded the franchise knows the value of everything but the price of nothing.

Dave   01/04/2017 at 09:48

it just shows why we up north think that all southerners are ungrateful graspers rewarded by the authorities whilst we get the scraps cascaded to us.

David   01/04/2017 at 16:56

Too much fuss over nothing. The Class 707 fleet will easily find a new homes. I've heard one suggestion that they could operate St. Pancras-Corby when that is electrified. Don't forget there was a period of time during which we didn't know where Porterbrook's "speculative" Class 387s were going to.

Surrey Commuter   01/04/2017 at 17:57

First MTR that will operate the SouthWestern Trains franchise will soon make up their minds on whether to keep the Class 707's and to use them on the Windsor line if they can agree to order new rolling stock trains. They will Change their minds and yes they would agree to keep the Class 707's for the Waterloo-Windsor & Eton Riverside, Weybridge the Hounslow Loop services.

Andrew G   02/04/2017 at 00:41

I do hope they do make up their minds at some stage that's what I'm thinking of. First MTR are a disgrace for not allowing to use the 30 5-car Class 707's as Siemens are still building the 707's that cost £200million. Glad that GTR Thameslink has a good relationship with Siemens with the 155 Class 700's (60 700/0's and 55 700/1's) that have been built and delivered with most of the Class 700's already in passenger service operating on most Thameslink routes such as-Bedford-Brighton, Bedford-Gatwick Airport, Bedford/Luton-Three Bridges, Luton/St. Albans-Wimbledon & Sutton via Wimbledon Loop and St. Albans/West Hempstead Thameslink-Sevenoaks & Orpington routes as the 12-car and 8-car Class 700's have already taken over those routes since June last year. And with the Class 319's to be transferred to Northern and Class 377/5's have been transferred to Southeastern (8 377/5's are with Southeastern as 15 377/5's could remain with Southern) and Class 387/1's transferred to Great Northern to work on King's Cross-Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Linn routes that have replaced the Class 317's and Class 321's to certain train operators including Abellio's Greater Anglia and Scotrail and some Class 317's for TfL/Arriva London Overground. Shame on First MTR.

David   02/04/2017 at 12:57

Why is it a shame, Andrew? The talk is that the Class 707s were built on the cheap and need substantial upgrades to meet the criteria required by the new franchise. And since the Class 455/456 fleet is finally going to be replaced anyway it makes sense to cut down on the number of different types of traction - like what Greater Anglia has done.

Andrew G   02/04/2017 at 22:08

So what you are saying is that First MTR will start to use the Class 707's once the delivery of all 30 Class 707's have been delivered and are in passenger service in the Summer. Or is that what they dont want since £200m has been agreed on and Siemens are producing the Class 707's. I wanted Stagecoach to continue with the franchise (by extending it to 9 years) and to get the Class 707's delivered and to operate on the Windsor service to & from London Waterloo from April (which we are in April but we dont know when the Class 707's may start operating on the Waterloo-Windsor line).

David   02/04/2017 at 22:14

The Class 707s will definitely be in use on First SWR until 2020, after which I reckon a potential destination could be the Corby electrics, if the timing works out.

David   02/04/2017 at 23:08

And you know Stagecoach would likely have replaced their own Class 707s too? The new franchise requires five and ten-car metro stock that could carry a lot more people than at present.

Jimbo   03/04/2017 at 09:42

Bottom line now is that the 707's are not suitable for the service they want to offer so they want to provide better trains, which means either removing or rebuilding the small fleet of 707's. Isn't this how the rolling stock market is supposed to work ? ROSCO's providing a selection of options for the TOC's to choose from. If First/MTR can get a better deal for their new rolling stock, why would they want to keep these trains ? They are under an obligation to provide a service not keep stock that is unsuitable for that service

Melvyn   03/04/2017 at 22:37

Class 707 trains are Sister units to Class 700s and part of their introduction includes trials with AC overhead runs on one or two units to prove their ability to work on both systems . Therefore these trains could be added to the Class 700 fleet and one possibility might be to extend through services to Corby when electrification is complete releasing space in MML platforms for more long distance services. I believe Class 707s have been built with SWT 5 carriage length meaning they don't fit the standard 4 carriage lengths used on most lines . I doubt if this news will be very popular with commuters on SWT who have to stand and were looking forward to more capacity in the next few months . One could also ask why this not wanting Class 707 Siemens trains was not specified in First MTR bid ?

Chris M   04/04/2017 at 01:45

I am sure these thirty units will be found a use elsewhere, but ultimately the costs of their premature displacement will be passed on. If nothing else the next speculative short-term UK rolling stock contract without government backed guarantees may not happen as the finance houses remember what happened with these 707s. Corby is possible, assuming these units are OK for 110mph running and can be fitted out with better seating for longer-distance work. However long-term the MML would probably do better to obtain four car units, able to run three together in the peaks as 240m long formations. Two class 707s only offer 200m combined length.

Andrew JG   04/04/2017 at 14:59

If Stagecoach still had the chance to keep the Southwest Rail franchise and to extend the franchise to 10 years more then they would allow to start using the Class 707's on the Windsor & Eton service and on the Hounslow Loop and Weybridge services and the Class 458's to be moved for the Reading line and the Class 450's cascaded for the Alton line to & from London Waterloo.

Martin Hollands   04/04/2017 at 15:04

Sadly this is what happens when there is NO joined up thinking across an industry, and when the Mandarins at DfT demonstrate once again that they cannot draw up a decent Tender for TOCs to bid against. Personally I didn't like the specs of these trains (no toilets and more standing space) but for them now to not be used and no doubt the taxpayer to foot the bill shows gross ineptitude at the very least more likely incompetence and Zero foresight. BR wasn't perfect, but it had a national perspective and was moving in the right direction with most of its procurement (when allowed to by HMG)

Helmsman   04/04/2017 at 16:07

I can understand why First MTR has acted in this way - to create a standardised & homogenous train fleet - but if every new franchise ditched new rolling stock likewise there would be chaos. It's the knock-on effect on the rest of the industry that must be of concern. A sudden move like this creates uncertainty. The risk - and the loss (if there is one) - will be borne by Angel. But the leasing companies and rolling stock manufacturers may be wary of supplying the UK market in future, and that could push up both capital costs for new build as well as leasing charges. There is a fundamental mismatch between the franchising period - seven years in this case - and the age of the rolling stock (which can 2x, 3x or 4x longer). That is why things can't be left entirely to the market, and why the DfT has a role to play in rolling stock procurement. But the DfT has taken a laid back laissez-faire approach throughout:"It's up to First MTR South Western to decide how to use their trains," is its line. That's not just lack of 'joined-up thinking', it amounts to an abdication of authority as well.

Joel   05/04/2017 at 13:48

SWT can't have a single-family fleet unless either the Salisbury /WoE routes are fully-electrified, or those routes are hived off to a different franchise. The guards issue (above) is also being distorted; is this the right place to raise that? Apologies if I'm continuing the error. We have an ageing population, including me. I feel safer with visible uniformed staff, not CCTV cameras which may not be working, let alone wondering when someone remote has picked up that something's wrong. The purpose of the guard hasn't changed - ensuring the safety of the train and those on it - but the role has mutated. We're letting speculation over-rule reality. First MTR, like all the other TOCs are only in this for the money; if they've switched rolling stock orders, only money is behind that choice. Facts are scarce, so we risk ending up believing the smoke and mirrors of unsubstantiated thoughts.

Nigel   05/04/2017 at 19:24

Wherever First goes problems occur! The GWR electrification, indecision on the electrification of the Thames Valley Branch Lines. Fitted all the IEP"s with diesel engines - Will Mayor Khan slap a £20/ passenger pollution charge? There bus operation still contracting. Bring back Stagecoach as the lessor of 2 evil bus companies!

Pete   21/06/2017 at 20:54

As a "user" of the class 455/6 trains every day, I cannot begin to stress how long overdue these 30+year old trains are for replacement. The weekly breakdowns cause havoc on the suburban lines and the lack of air conditioning (hello 2017) in the summer months causes regular passengers to fall ill on the train and emergency services end up being called (while of course, the trains are stuck at the platforms causing a build up of delays).

Aaron   18/08/2017 at 15:00

I live in the north but am born n bred in Surrey. The one thing i cannot believe is the 707s have been commissioned without loos. I have ms and had great fun travelling, needing the loo and sat on class 456 without toilet facilities. Forthright disabled like me, I feel discriminated because I reguarly have to use the loo and when your on a train which has a hr and a half journey, it's not fun being in pain. I shudnt of been made to get off at aldershot go over for a wee n then have to wait for another train. Toilets should be a legal requirement on trains. As for the class 707 fiasco, I agree that first/mtr are walking around with blinkers on and see to not look before they leap!

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