The joint venture between First MTR and South Western Trains will begin operation on August 20 and hopes to invest £1.2 billion to raise the quality of all their services.
CEO of European Business MTR Corporation, Jeremy Long said: ‘MTR is known across the world for the excellent quality of its rail services, and we look forward to working with FirstGroup to provide a best-in-class travel experience for passengers in London and the South West.
‘Together we will deliver a major programme of upgrades, including improvements to both rail services and customer experience, for passengers travelling across the South Western network.’
Trains to London will be increased to four trains an hour between London and Portsmouth with a direct service along the South Coast connecting communities from Portsmouth to Weymouth, and semi-fast service between Portsmouth and Southampton that will run every half hour.
The number of fast trains to Portsmouth will also double on Sunday afternoons.
Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling said: ‘This is great news for rail passengers. FirstGroup and MTR will deliver the improvements that people tell us they want right across the South Western franchise area, from Southampton and Portsmouth, to Bristol and Exeter, to Reading, Windsor and London.
‘We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century and this franchise will deliver real changes for passengers, who can look forward to modern trains, faster journeys and a more reliable service.’
Ninety old carriages will be refurbished to ‘as new’ for services from Portsmouth to London with a comfortable ‘two plus two’ seating on all Portsmouth fast trains to London by December 2018.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, an independent transport user watchdog said:’Passengers using trains on the South West network told us their main priorities for a new operator are: boosting reliability and more space to sit and stand in some comfort. They also want to see a better on train experience, stations modernised and improved information.
‘We are looking forward to working closely with First MTR as it delivers these enhancements, emphasising this must be in a way that does not cause undue shorter term disruption.’
What do you want to know about the new rail franchise? On Monday we’ll be putting your questions to First-MTR’s managing director Andy Mellors.