South West rail's new operator: Reactions from passenger groups, unions and losing franchisee

Oliver Gill
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There will be significant disruption at Waterloo station, with platforms closed between 5 and 28 August

South West rail will be operated by a new train company from this summer after more than 20 years in the hands of Stagecoach.

FirstGroup teamed up with Hong Kong's metro operator MTR to impress the Chris Grayling and the department for transport (DfT).

Read more: FirstGroup wins South West rail contract with help from Hong Kong firm

As you might imagine, the new pair and the DfT were rather pleased at the news, promising a transformation of the network. The new JV formally takes over on 20 August.

But how did everyone else react?

The unions

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Cash said: "Once again the government have refused to consider the public sector option for a major rail franchise and instead it's a foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, which is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers' expense.

"The nonsense is that with the government triggering Article 50 this week they would be free to ignore EU rail directives that slam a block on public ownership. It is frankly ludicrous that the Tories are continuing with the 'any state but the British state' policy which has plundered our railways for ‎over two decades."

RMT is deeply concerned at exactly what this announcement will mean for our members, these crucial rail services and the safety of the travelling public.

Read more: Tube strike threat looms as RMT mulls escalation of row over staff sacking

"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."

Passenger groups

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers using trains on the South West network told us their main priorities for a new operator are: boosting reliability and more space to sit and stand in some comfort. They also want to see a better on train experience, stations modernised and improved information.

“We included these aspirations in our work with the DfT when working on the franchise outline, when talking to the bidders and hope to see the passenger voice strongly built into the new franchise.

“Transport Focus is looking closely at the winning bid to see how these ambitious proposals will deliver for passengers. New trains, more services, smarter ticketing including flexible season tickets and lots of other promised improvements. We are looking forward to working closely with First MTR as it delivers these enhancements, emphasising this must be in a way that does not cause undue shorter term disruption.

Passengers will be pleased to also see the introduction of boosted compensation through Delay Repay triggers being set at the lower level of 15 minutes – a big step in the right direction in building trust with passengers.

Read more: FirstGroup gets Brexit boost from sterling despite flat performance in UK

The loser

Stagecoach chief executive 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.

Over the past two decades, we have delivered real improvements for our customers right across the network. That success has been built on fantastic people, detailed knowledge of the business and strong relationships with our stakeholders and railway partners.

But we have never thought our job was finished.

Read more: Two train operators shortlisted to battle for new franchise

"We believe we submitted a strong bid for the new South Western franchise," Griffiths added.

"It offered a transformation in the travel experience for our customers, more investment to help the railway support the communities and economy of the south-west, as well as a substantial and deliverable financial benefit to taxpayers to help fund better public services.

"We will be seeking detailed feedback from the DfT on the various elements of our bid.

"I would like to thank all of our employees and partners who have been involved in delivering our vision for the railway in the south-west over the past two decades as well as those who contributed to our strong bid for the new franchise. I know they share our disappointment in the result."

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