South Western Railway (SWR) could lose its franchise just a few years after it took over the line from Stagecoach’s South West Trains.
The company has faced a month long strike which crippled services across the south of England, along with costly upgrades which are not being matched by increased usage.
SWR, a joint venture between FirstGroup and Elizabeth line operator, MTR, took over the services in August 2017 but now faces the threat of losing the franchise.
Not so much as so quick that the paint hasn’t dried on their new trains, as so quick they still have trains waiting to be repainted in the new livery.
South Western Railway’s (SWR’s) recent financial statements have indicated that the franchise is not sustainable in the long term. Apart from the strike and upgrade delays, the company is facing a large bill thanks to a clause in its franchise agreement known as the Central London Employment (CLE) mechanism which while sharing the cost risk during a recession, also means that the franchise pays the DfT additional fees when employment rises, as it has done.The Department for Transport has now issued a notice to the company, and to it’s own state-owned operator to put forward bids to maintain or take-over the contracts.
The one organisation not invited to tender to take over the franchise is TfL, which has been clamouring to operate more national rail services around London. As SWR services include trains all the way out to Devon though, a pure switch of operator would be politically difficult, while chopping up the franchise into pieces for TfL and others to bid for may take far longer to achieve.
Of course, if TfL took over the franchise, then you end up with the rather delicious result that it takes over the railway on the Isle of Wight, which famously uses old London Underground trains.
In the sort term, passengers wont notice any difference, and even if the government transfers the license to its own company, apart from another paint job on the trains, no practical changes are expected.