Less than a year after launching, South Western Railway faces unavoidable renegotiation of its contract with the Department for Transport.
The latter’s decision to delay essential timetable changes in December 2018 has made SWR’s franchise delivery impossible.
In response to the chaotic meltdown in Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway services following the May 20 timetable upgrade, Government announced in early July that eight franchises - including SWR - would not now be permitted to carry out essential enabling changes to their timetables this December (RAIL 857).
However, SWR’s contract committed it to delivering 30% more seats on trains into London Waterloo. The company, owned by FirstGroup and MTR, promised more, longer, better and faster services beginning from December 2018. Every train on every route would gradually be replaced or refurbished. A major re-writing of the December timetable was an essential requirement of this plan.
Did the DfT not fully appreciate the unintended consequences of its decision?
For example, in Eastleigh works a fleet of 90 Class 442 vehicles is being refurbished for the Portsmouth route. The work includes new motors, as well as revamped interiors. These ten-car formations are shorter than the newer 12-car Class 450 trains they will replace and offer fewer seats. They can only provide similar capacity by running one extra train an hour between Portsmouth and London.
Following DfT’s rejection of its proposed timetable, SWR cannot now run the full fleet of extra trains without causing unacceptable overcrowding. In turn, the trains they were due to replace cannot now be cascaded to deliver the promises made on other lines out of Waterloo.
The DfT’s decision to delay these timetable changes has therefore made it impossible for the train operator to deliver its contracted franchise commitments.
The DfT has only said that these changes will be put back to an unspecified “later date”.
In a careful statement, FirstGroup said: “The decision to defer the new SWR timetable plans has been confirmed as a change under the franchise agreement. We will work through the commercial and contractual implications of this under agreed industry mechanisms.
“We look forward to realising the planned benefits for passengers at a later date.”
The company says it still aspires to deliver some of the promised improvements within the confines of the existing timetable.
- For the FULL story, read RAIL 858, published on August 1, and available digitally on Android/iPad now.