FirstGroup boss: The government's come round to our disciplined way of thinking on rail franchising

Oliver Gill
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Tim O'Toole reckons it is possible to make money in rail (Source: Getty)

The chief executive of FirstGroup today hailed his firm's "disciplined" approach to bidding as being pivotal in securing the South West rail franchise.

FirstGroup overcame 20-year incumbent Stagecoach to be awarded a seven-year contract to run the network together with partner MTR.

“We have consistently said and practised that you have to come forward with disciplined bids you can make sure that you can deliver on," FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole told City A.M..

Read more: The RMT isn't happy about the new South West rail operator

Historically, O'Toole said, such an approach, which meant "you can make money", had counted against FirstGroup in the past.

He said: “The downside of that is we have not been selected in a lot of the early competition. The winning bids were well beyond anything we could support.

“What’s gratifying now is we’ve found a very important franchise where our approach has been recognised.

“I think the government is responding to the marketplace."

Old associate

MTR operates the Hong Kong metro system and has already won the tender to operate the Crossrail's Elizabeth line. It will own a 30 per cent stake in the joint venture that will take over on 20 August.

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

O'Toole referred to the European operations of MTR as "old associates of ours" with many members of staff previously working for FirstGroup. He added its knowledge of operating in high density areas will stand the joint venture in good stead in dealing with the challenges that face it.

FirstGroup worked with passenger feedback groups to gather information about “everything a passenger deals with".

Therefore, said O'Toole: “The franchise is more weighted to quality that any of the recent competitions.

It is and it starts with the capacity and the way that you deliver getting the trains to run on time.

What we can do to improve and enhance that passenger experience, right down at the granular level.

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