THE news that First-MTR has won the next South West Trains franchise raised more than a few eyebrows in the industry. Not only has First Group thus ousted its great rival Stagecoach from a franchise it has held since 1996, but the consortium’s future plans include bringing back 30-year-old Class 442s to Wessex while replacing the new Siemens-built Class 707s – which have not even started service with SWT yet.
On the face of it, this seems like madness – illustrating the often-cited worst aspects of our privatised rail structure: a lack of continuity and long-term planning. Details of why First-MTR has decided to do this had yet to emerge as this issue went to press, but the national press is sure to have a field day when it comes out.
There is speculation that the ‘707s’ might prove expensive to run, and so reordering elsewhere might be a cheaper alternative in the long run. If true, this could also have helped make Stagecoach’s bid more expensive than First-MTR’s, as the incumbent would be obliged to retain the trains it ordered from Siemens.
We await clarity. But if the ‘707s’ are to leave SWT, then the question is where would they go? The thought of practically brand new units sat in store while other parts of the country are crying out for upgrades will be a PR disaster on a massive scale.
As a break from the vagaries of the current railway scene, we also look back to the golden years of summer-dated loco-hauled travel – when freight locos came out in force to haul rakes of Mk.1s to coastal resorts around the country. Skegness is the destination this time, and with summer now just around the corner, it is one of those occasions when a time machine would come in very handy. Enjoy!
Paul Bickerdyke, Editor