Ministers have promised ‘a new era in joined up working’ after awarding the South Western rail franchise to a consortium that includes Chinese firm MTR.
First MTR South Western Trains Ltd has been awarded the franchise, which will run for seven years from August. First Group and existing operator Stagecoach were the only two bidders shortlisted to run the franchise last year.
The South Western franchise operates out of London Waterloo
The Department for Transport (DfT) said this is the first franchise awarded since transport secretary Chris Grayling set out his vision for the future of the railways in a speech in December and marks a new era in joined up working between train operators and Network Rail.
Mr Grayling said the deal was ‘more great news for rail passengers’.
He 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.’
The DfT said the firm would use the experience of major shareholder MTR, which operates the Hong Kong metro, with faster journeys delivered through a consistent fleet of new suburban trains offering a regular, metro-style service.
It said the new franchise would see closer partnership working between track and train, with the firm and Network Rail, aiming to fulfil Mr Grayling’s vision of ‘a railway that is predominantly run by an integrated local team of people with a commitment to the smooth operation of their routes, improving services and performance’.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union was ‘deeply concerned at the news.
He said: ‘We will be seeking an early meeting with the new owners to secure cast iron guarantees on the jobs and role of the guards, the future of the wider workforce and the safety and quality of passenger services.
The DfT said the new franchise holder would oversee a £1.2bn investment in the franchise, which will see:
- 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
- more frequent and additional services across the franchise