Aberdeen-based FirstGroup and joint venture partner MTR Corporation have been awarded the UK’s new South Western rail franchise, taking it away from Perth-based Stagecoach which has operated the network under the South West Trains brand since 1996.
The new franchise will operate from August 2017 until at least August 2024.
Under the contract, the franchise operators will deliver £2.6 billion net present value in premium payments to the UK Government over the core period.
“Over the course of the franchise, £1.2 billion will be invested to raise the quality of every aspect of train journeys on the South Western network,” said FirstGroup.
“From December 2018 our plans will deliver faster journey times to stations including Hounslow, Reading, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Portsmouth and Salisbury …”
The UK’s Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling said: “This is great news for rail passengers.
“FirstGroup and MTR will deliver the improvements that people tell us they want right across the South Western franchise area, from Southampton and Portsmouth, to Bristol and Exeter, to Reading, Windsor and London.
“We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century and this franchise will deliver real changes for passengers, who can look forward to modern trains, faster journeys and a more reliable service.”
FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole said: “We are delighted that our partnership with MTR has been selected by the DfT to run the South Western rail franchise, a key part of the country’s railway network which millions of people rely on every day.
“Our successful bid will deliver the tangible improvements that customers and stakeholders have told us they want from this franchise.
“Passengers can look forward to new and better trains, more seats and services, quicker journey times, improved stations and more flexible fare options.”
FirstGroup said that franchise passenger revenues, which were £991 million in 2015-16, are expected to increase from the additional capacity created.
Stagecoach CEO Martin Griffiths said: “We are proud to have operated the network under the South West Trains brand for more than 20 years and we are disappointed that we have been unsuccessful in our bid for the new franchise …
“We will be seeking detailed feedback from the Department for Transport on the various elements of our bid.”