The Government announced on 23 March that First Great Western (FGW) has been given an extension of its Franchise until April 2019. HBUG (Henley Branch User Group) has welcomed this decision as it will provide stability during the critical period when all the necessary work to allow electrification of the Thames Valley lines is taking place together with the introduction of the various types of electric trains that will replace both the High Speed 125 units and the diesel commuter trains. The new trains will provide around 3,000,000 additional seats per year by 2018 across the franchise and 4000 more morning peak seats into London every day by December 2018. At this stage we do not know how many of these additional seats will be on branch or main line trains used by Henley Branch travellers and this is clearly a key point that we will keep under close scrutiny as plans develop.
It was also stated that the Henley Branch line will be electrified and a target completion date of December 2017 was included in the announcement. While this is encouraging and consistent with what we were told by Network Rail in January, it is important to remember that we were also told by Network Rail that Phase 1 of the project for electrifying the branch will not be reviewed until January 2016 and formal approval to install branch electrification will not take place until that review has completed. Electrification of the main line is running behind schedule and over budget. We will be meeting with Network Rail again in July for an update on progress. Other improvements that will affect our branch were stated to be additional services from May 2017 with further extra services from December 2018. There is no information about the nature of the additional services at present, as soon as more is known we will let you know.
The announcement also included the introduction of South Eastern Flexible Ticketing on the Branch Line. Flexible Ticketing will use a smart card type ticket (similar in concept to an Oystercard) which will replace paper tickets. There is no information on the timing of this change which will probably require the installation of a smart card validator at branch stations.
John Howell MP has welcomed the new franchise agreement with First Great Western. John Howell commented:
“This is excellent news for all the people in this constituency who rely on our railways to get to work and get around day-to-day – and I’m particularly pleased to see that Goring & Streatley station will benefit from improvements to the car park from 2016 while electrified services will run on the Henley branch line from December 2017. I am also glad that busy commuting routes into London such as ours will see a significant increase in capacity and better journey times.
“Delivering investment in our railways is a key part of the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan, and as this agreement shows, it is bringing real improvements to our railways. We are investing the most in our railways since the Victorians. We are investing a record £38 billion in Britain’s railways from 2014-2019 – with investment in improvements 12% higher than the level set by Labour in 2009 – and enough to fund more than 850 miles of electrification.”
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