South Western Railway 'not sustainable in the long term', says transport secretary Grant Shapps

TRANSPORT secretary Grant Shapps has said South Western Railway’s franchise is ‘not sustainable’ in the long term, citing poor performance and slow revenue growth.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 10:52 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 5:23 pm
A South Western Railway train. Picture: Victoria Jones/ PA Wire

It comes after the company’s directors said in December it could lose its contract in the next year, with its services possibly being transferred to a publicly-owned operator.

In a written statement to Parliament today, Mr Shapps said: ‘South Western Railway's recent financial statements have indicated that the franchise is not sustainable in the long term.

‘Poor operational performance, combined with slower revenue growth, has led to the financial performance of South Western Railway to be significantly below expectation since the franchise commenced in August 2017.’

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Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, at Portsmouth International Port last year. Picture: Habibur Rahman

He said while South Western Railway had not yet failed to meet its financial commitments, the Department for Transport has asked the firm’s owners, First Group and MTR, and the Operator of the Last Resort to propose ‘contingency measures’.

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Mr Shapps added: ‘This will not impact on the railway's day-to-day operations. The business will continue to operate as usual with no material impact on South Western Railway services or staff.’

The incident, thought to be triggered by overheated brakes on a newly-refurbished train, saw hundreds evacuated at Petersfield.

South Western Railway runs train services in and out of Portsmouth, including to London Waterloo and Southampton Central.

Disruption on the lines is expected until the end of the day because of a signalling fault between Hilsea and Fratton.

Mick Cash, secretary general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, RMT, called government a ‘total cop out’ in a plea to bring South Western Railway into immediate public ownership.

‘This government is acting like a puppet for the rail companies, throwing good public money after bad and trying to breathe life into the rotting corpse of privatised rail,' he said in a statement following Mr Shapps' comments.

‘Attacking civil liberties, he should stop pushing cost-cutting driver only operation and bring South Western Railway into public ownership, running it in the interests of passengers and workers not his mates in the city.’

The News has approached South Western Railway and the Department for Transport for a response.