SWR defends its approach to train procurement


South Western Railway (SWR) has rejected criticism from the head of a rolling stock leasing company over its policy of replacing new trains with even newer ones.

A spokesperson for the rail operator has told Transport Network that its approach would nearly halve the age of its fleet and provide a more consistent experience for its passengers.

Computer generated image of an SWR AVENTRA train at Waterloo

However SWR’s purchase of the new trains raised fears at the RMT union that they would be used to implement driver only operation, leading to an ongoing dispute.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mary Grant, chief executive of Porterbrook Leasing Company, said that the Government’s emphasis on putting new trains on to the network – including replacing relatively new rolling stock – is ‘not sustainable’ for the rail industry

Although the standard post-privatisation model has been for train operating companies (TOCs) to lease trains, whose life expectancy exceeds their own franchises, they have more recently been ordering new rolling stock directly.

Ms Grant said that when TOCs do this, discarding the trains leased by their predecessors: ‘That will create a form of surplus in the short-term...The model is not sustainable if there is a continuous cycle of a new train comes in and seven years later it might be displaced.’

According to the FT, ‘Ms Grant pointed to the complete fleet replacement on South Western Railway last year (SWR), when “new displaced new”’.

A spokesman for SWR denied that it is replacing its entire fleet, although it did controversially announce last year that it was ordering new AVENTRA trains from Bombardier, which will displace leased Siemens-built Desiro City Class 707s on part of its network after only two years.

Defending the company’s approach, the SWR spokesperson said: ‘At the end of the previous franchise, the fleet had an average age of around 18 years, and this will reduce to 10 years with the replacement of our suburban fleet and introduction of some additional vehicles to increase capacity.

‘This investment will deliver the multiple operational advantages of having a homogenous fleet, with all the trains possessing similar braking and acceleration characteristics, and in addition we will be able to deliver a more consistent customer experience.’

On Thursday (15 August) the RMT announced three new 24-hour strikes next month in the dispute over driver only operation, claiming that the firm had ‘made a mockery of agreed talks and sabotaged a process that could have reached agreement’.


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