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August 21 2017
The franchise was awarded in March, following a tender process which lasted for over six months.
The new operator of the South Western franchise is a partnership between First Group – already a familiar name among UK public transport users – and MTR Corporation, a Japanese mass transit firm who also specialise in property development.
The new contract is expected to earn the government £2.6bn over the next seven years, after which point renewal negotiations will begin (although the Department for Transport does have the option of automatically extending the existing franchise for one year if it is happy with how it is being run).
Multiple stations in the counties of Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset, Berkshire and Wiltshire will be served by the South Western franchise. It will also operate services from these destinations to London Waterloo – Britain’s busiest railway station which is currently undergoing major improvement works carried out by an army of rail recruitment agency workers.
Whilst the news may not at first glance seem to be the most exciting for rail users, it will have far-reaching consequences for passengers, perhaps the most notable of which being a significant upgrade to Southampton Central station (coming at the cost of £1.4m), as well as the delivery of 750 new train carriages from the Derbyshire-based engineers Bombardier.
The leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor Simon Letts, is among the most enthusiastic about the impending changes that will be made to his city’s station, telling the Southern Daily Echo: “The improvements at Southampton are much needed – it is the busiest station [in] the Solent area so the investment will create a more integrated transport hub”.
Image Credit: Joshua Brown