First time a bidder offering lower premium payments but higher quality proposals has won a DfT rail franchise since new approach began in 2013


Stagecoach ordered a £210m fleet of new Class 707 trains for South Western, but First/MTR will phase them out


First/MTR has won the new South Western franchise despite offering to pay the Department for Transport less for the contract than incumbent operator Stagecoach. It is understood that First/MTR’s bid received a higher quality score than Stagecoach’s and this was the decisive factor.

It is the first time a bidder offering lower premium payments but higher quality proposals has won a DfT franchise since quality started being taken into account in contract awards in 2013.

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole said First and MTR, its Hong Kong-based partners, had recognised that quality would be particularly important in bidding for South Western. This was due to a combination of the DfT increasing the points available and market conditions depressing the premium payments that could realistically be offered.

We put together a bid that was based on quality – that is, improvements in every aspect of the passengers’ experience

“We put together a bid that was based on quality – that is, improvements in every aspect of the passengers’ experience,” he commented.

Plans to develop the service during the seven-year franchise are centred on complete replacement of the suburban commuter fleet with 750 new carriages being introduced by December 2020.

On main line services from Portsmouth to London, an additional 90 carriages will be introduced by December 2018 through reintroducing off-lease Class 442 trains to the franchise and refurbishing them.

Existing rolling stock on other routes will be refurbished. 

Overall, First said there would be 52,000 more seats per day in the morning and evening peak at Waterloo by December 2020 amounting to a 30% increase in capacity.

Major timetables improvements with additional and faster services will start from December 2018 when the former international platforms at Waterloo are brought back into use. They include doubling services to Windsor and Reading to four trains per hour, and 35 more trains per day between Portsmouth and London. South coast Portsmouth-Weymouth trains will be reintroduced and there will be 400 more services across the network on Sundays, providing a frequency similar to weekday afternoons
for the first time.

Faster journeys will include a 12-minute reduction on London-Hounslow trips, an 11-minute reduction on Salisbury-London trips and an eight-minute reduction on Southampton-London trips.

New customer facilities will be provided on all trains by 2020. There will be free Wi-Fi with five times greater bandwidth than today so that an onboard infotainment service can be offered featuring films, catch-up TV, newspapers and magazines. Other new features on all trains will include real time information screens, charging points for every seat, and toilets on short distance metro trains. A new app will provide links to all transport services throughout the south west.

The introduction of smart ticketing across the network from 2020 will mean new flexible fares. FirstGroup said the technology would guarantee customers the cheapest single or return fare, offer part time season tickets, and provide cash back for commuters who buy 12 consecutive monthly tickets because they cannot afford an annual season ticket. In addition, there will be automatic compensation when trains are delayed by 15 minutes or more for people who buy season or advance purchase tickets on smartcard.

O’Toole said the plans had been based on extensive discussions with customers, businesses and communities across the network from Bristol to the south coast to London.


Related coverage in the latest issue of Passenger Transport:

First/MTR to offload £210m Class 707 fleet
New standardised fleet will help deliver 93% PPM target

£2.6bn premium ‘quite sensible’
Annual revenue growth of 6.9% required

DOO questions side-stepped
‘We’ll consult in the normal course’ – O’Toole

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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