Rail Franchise Consultation Opens

The Great Western rail franchise could be split up to maintain the strongest possible focus on passengers under proposals unveiled today (29 November 2017) by the Department of Transport.

The plans would create a new West of England rail franchise to provide long-distance services between London, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall together with local and regional services across the south-west.

The proposals were released today in a consultation asking passengers how they want the Great Western rail service to look in future.

Billions of pounds are being spent to upgrade services for passengers on Great Western, which carries 100 million passengers a year and stretches from London to Penzance and from Portsmouth to Worcester.

Improvements include brand-new electric and bi-mode trains to provide more seats and more comfortable journeys, while timetable changes will mean faster and more frequent trips on many routes by 2019.

The Government has decided to extend the franchise for the current operator Great Western Railway (GWR) until March 2020 to make sure passengers get the best possible service while these upgrades are carried out.

And the Department for Transport will also seek to agree terms for them to continue operating until 2022, which will to allow the improved services to bed in fully before running a competition for a new long-term franchise.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said:

“We are investing in the biggest modernisation of the railways for over a century. Working with GWR, we are bringing the very latest in rail technology to some of the world’s oldest lines, putting passengers first so that they benefit from a transformational programme of upgrades as quickly as possible.

The benefits of these improvements will be felt right across the franchise area. But as the franchise continues to grow into the 2020s, we want to ensure every line, station and passenger remains central to the train operator’s strategy. This consultation asks passengers how they want their railway to look into the 2020s and beyond and how it will best deliver for them.”

The consultation opened today and will run for 12 weeks, closing on 21 February 2018.

GWR’s Managing Director Mark Hopwood has sent us his comments on the rail franchise consultation.

Dear Henley Herald readers

You may well have seen the Department for Transport’s (DfT) announcement this morning regarding its strategy for the UK rail industry, and its plans for the future of the Great Western franchise. If not, you can download a copy at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/great-western-rail-franchise

As part of the announcement, the DfT has confirmed it will extend the current GWR franchise by 12 months until April 2020. They have also confirmed their intention to discuss with us a further direct award franchise lasting at least two years.

We believe the DfT’s announcement today is a vote of confidence in the work we have been doing with you and all our industry and community partners. It will bring stability and mean that we can continue to deliver improvements for our customers.

A period of detailed negotiation will now follow, but this opportunity will create further stability on the Great Western route as we continue our work to deliver the biggest investment since Brunel, transforming rail services to support the local and regional economy.

Our customers are already travelling on brand new suburban and long-distance trains, with more seats and better Wi-Fi. Going forward, Network Rail’s upgrade work will mean the biggest timetable change in a generation with more frequent and faster services, keeping people moving and communities prospering across the network for generations to come.

As well as the franchise extension, the DfT also announced it is starting a consultation into the future shape of the franchise in the future, and how we can build on the improvements we have already delivered, and are about to deliver.

I wanted to make sure you were aware of the opportunity. We have always believed that the Great Western is a partnership, taking local aspirations and turning them into reality, this is a chance to set down what you want for the future and I do hope you will take part in the consultation.

Mark Hopwood | Managing Director | Great Western Railway

Local Comment

Local rail traveller support group Henley Trains encourage readers to consider this document and comment. Constructive comments sent to henleytrains@gmail.com will be consolidated into a group response.