The new 15 year Great Western franchise will see passengers benefit from new express trains, additional capacity, smart card ticketing and passenger satisfaction targets as part of proposals being put forward by Rail Minister Theresa Villiers.
The number of train services required by the new franchise will be based broadly on the current timetable, rather than the contracted minimum in the existing franchise. The popular Sleeper Service to Penzance will be retained. An extra early, fast train from London to Plymouth will be introduced. This will achieve aspirations for a ‘there and back in a day’ service to Plymouth from the capital.
Successful extra local services such as those on the Truro to Falmouth, Par to Newquay and the Severn Beach Lines, including those which are locally funded at present, are being added to the base specification of the franchise. This recognises the valuable work and track record of investment made by local stakeholders. Full responsibility for funding these local schemes is expected to pass to the Department for Transport from 2015, securing their future and freeing up local resources for other transport priorities.
Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said:
“Passengers using the Great Western Line will benefit from major infrastructure improvements and new rolling stock over the next few years, as a result of the Government’s ambitious programme of rail improvements, including extensive electrification.
“For the first time on the Great Western franchise, we will be introducing requirements on passenger satisfaction for the train operator to meet which will mean they have to focus strongly on the issues that matter the most to passengers. Extending smart card ticketing across the franchise will provide many more passengers across the West and South West with the kind of convenience Oyster has brought to Londoners. The Sleeper train is being retained, Plymouth gets the new early train from London they asked for and the future of popular extra local services such as the Severn Beach Line and Truro to Falmouth has been secured.
“This new franchise will see additional capacity delivered to benefit passengers. A more efficient and flexible franchise will encourage private sector investment, for example in improving stations and investing in rolling stock. It will promote greater efficiency and also enable the train operator to react to more effectively to changing passenger demands.”
The new franchise will run for 15 years from July 2013 to July 2028. It will require broadly the same number of trains to run between end-to-end destinations as is the case today, while giving the new operator greater flexibility with regard to timetabling and calling patterns and, in certain instances, use of connecting trains.
This flexibility will help ensure the line is used in the most efficient way for passengers and potentially allow faster journey times and improved services. It will also encourage private sector investment in the franchise, including stations.
A final decision has not yet been taken on the exact number of through services between Paddington and Penzance. The Invitation to Tender requires the continuation of 9 journey opportunities between London and Penzance each day (in addition to the Sleeper) with at least 6 being provided by through trains. After discussions with local MPs and Cornwall Council, the Government is asking the bidders to explore with stakeholders how rail services in Cornwall might be improved to ensure the right balance between long distance and regional services is achieved. The ITT therefore requires bidders to provide a price for additional through journeys above the minimum and also for a half hourly regional service on the Cornish main line. Decisions on whether these options are affordable and can go ahead will be taken prior to the new franchise being agreed.
A number of other options which could help to further improve local services have been included which potential operators are invited to consider and provide pricing for so that they can be taken forward if a value for money solution is provided and local funding is available.