Southern and Thameslink rail franchise to be split up

The franchise running Southern, Thameslink, and Gatwick Express trains is due to be split up when the contract is retendered in 2021, the Government has confirmed.

Southern and Gatwick Express trains waiting to depart
Southern and Gatwick Express trains waiting to depart

Govia Thameslink Railway has run the vast majority of rail services in Sussex since 2014, but infrastructure, management, and staffing problems combined with industrial action led to severe and repeated delays for passengers from late 2015 into this year.

The size of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise has been blamed as a contributing factor to the problems experienced by the rail operator.

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The Government’s ‘strategic vision for rail’, unveiled this morning (Wednesday November 29), announced a shift to smaller train companies, with the TSGN franchise set to be split up in 2021 ‘as planned’.

Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, said: “The last few years have seen massive growth on Britain’s railways. This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers.

“But now we need to build on that success by building a new model for the 2020s and beyond, one more able to deal with the huge rise in passenger numbers and the challenges of an increasingly congested network.

“Rail passengers deserve a more reliable, more efficient service – and I will deliver it by ending the one-size-fits-all approach of franchising and bringing closer together the best of the public and private sector.”

Tim Loughton, East Worthing and Shoreham MP, said: “It is good news that the GTR franchise is to be broken up - it was always too big to manage and by a company that couldn’t manage it properly in any case.”

The document says: “In 2014, the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise brought together two different franchises under one management contract to support the delivery of the Thameslink Programme.

“The current franchise will come up for renewal in 2021 and with the completion of the Thameslink Programme the Government’s intention is to split the franchise into two or more new franchises.

“In advance of competitions planned to start in 2019, the Department intends to review the future shape and size of the franchises that will replace the existing arrangements.

“As part of this, the Department will work with TfL [Transport for London] to explore options for transferring selected services such as the West London line to TfL.

“It is vital that performance and reliability are at acceptable levels across these routes, and that the benefits of the new trains and completed route and station upgrades are realised in full for passengers.”

A spokesman for GTR added: “GTR was created to deliver a large-scale, once-in-a-generation modernisation project and it was always understood that at the end of the franchise in 2021 an alternative model would be introduced.

“By joining together four rail routes under one company, we have been able to fast-track the huge amount of work needed to upgrade the most congested part of the UK rail network.

“Starting in May, passengers across the South East will reap the benefits with faster, more reliable and more frequent services, including thousands more peak-time seats.”

Responding to the Government’s rail proposals Andy McDonald, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “These flimsy re-announcements and un-funded proposals come as fares have risen at twice the rate of wages since 2010 and follow the decision to scrap hundreds of millions of pounds of promised rail investment.

“The Tories’ record is of delayed, downgraded and cancelled investment, huge disparities in regional transport spending and soaring fares that are pricing passengers off our railways.

“The Government’s failure stands in stark contrast to Labour’s plans to upgrade and expand the rail network across the country, including re-opening branch lines, funded through the National Transformation Fund, to be run under public ownership with affordable fares for all.”

The RMT union has been fighting the further extension of driver-only operation on Southern services, holding a number of walkouts since April 2016.

Its members have been transferred from guards to on-board supervisors, with drivers put in charge of opening and closing train doors.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “The planned breaking up of Great Western and GTR is a massive admission of failure by the Government but still they rule out the highly popular option of public ownership.

“That is a scandal.”

The strategic vision for rail also commits to explore opportunities to restore capacity lost under the Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s by identifying new schemes that unlock new housing or economic growth and offer good value for money.

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