South Western Railway (Train Operating Company) - A
South Western Railway (Train Operating Company) - A
South Western Railway (SWR, legal name First MTR South Western Trains Limited,) is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup (70%) and MTR Corporation (30%) that operates the South Western franchise.
On 20 August 2017, SWR took over South Western franchise operations from the previous franchisee South West Trains. SWR operates commuter services from its Central London terminus at London Waterloo to south west London. SWR provides suburban services in the counties of Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, as well as regional services in Devon, Somerset, Berkshire and Wiltshire. Its subsidiary Island Line operates services on the Isle of Wight.
Rolling stock changes have included a comprehensive refurbishment of existing units and the acquisition of new-build Class 701 units from Bombardier to replace SWR's Class 455, Class 456 and Class 707 multiple units. The Class 483 fleet operated on the Island Line was also replaced by the Class 484 during 2021.
During April 2018, amid concerns of SWR's performance, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced an independent review into SWR and Network Rail. Between 2 December 2019 and 2 January 2020, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) undertook 27 days of strikes. Further industrial action by SWR's staff was undertaken in 2022.
In response to the decrease in passenger travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, SWR had considerably curtailed its services by mid-2020. In January 2020, SWR announced that they were in discussions with the government regarding the future of the franchise. In December 2020, it was announced that SWR's franchise would be abolished and replaced by a shorter management contract. In February 2023, the contract was extended to May 2025.
South Western Railway History
During July 2015, the Department for Transport (DfT) abandoned efforts to negotiate an extension with the incumbent operator of the South Western franchise, South West Trains, (owned by British transport conglomerate Stagecoach) and announced that the South Western franchise would be retendered for in the coming years.
In February 2016, the DfT announced that two companies, FirstGroup and Stagecoach, had been shortlisted to bid for the next South Western franchise. During June 2016, MTR Corporation partnered with FirstGroup in their bid, taking a 30% shareholding in the joint venture. During July 2016, the DfT issued the Invitation to Tender.
During March 2017, the DfT announced that the South Western franchise had been awarded to First/MTR. At the time, it was stated that its franchise period was to commence from 20 August 2017 and run through to 18 August 2024, although the deal had included an option for the DfT to extend it for a further 48 weeks.
The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) held an inquiry into the awarding, during July 2017, it sought undertakings from SWR that it would not abuse its monopoly on services to the West of England, Dorset and Somerset, as FirstGroup also operated the Greater Western franchise in those regions. FirstGroup and MTR responded with an offer to implement a cap upon unregulated fares between London and Exeter as a mitigating measure, the CMA chose to accept this concession.
By April 2018, concerns had reportedly grown over SWR's performance over previous months, there had been a noted rise in both the number of delayed services and outright cancellations. Due to these concerns, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced an independent review into the performance of South Western Railway and Network Rail, the review was welcomed by Winchester's MP, Steve Brine.
During July 2018, reports emerged that FirstGroup/MTR were in the process of renegotiating the SWR contract, allegedly due to the operator's inability to deliver on many of its promised improvements, as well as its declining performance and industrial action by its own staff.
Between 2 December 2019 and 2 January 2020, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) undertook 27 days of strikes. These were in protest to the potential introduction of DOO (driver only operation) on SWR's new fleet of Bombardier-built Class 701 multiple units, which would thereby nullify the role of the guard.
In January 2020, SWR announced that they were in discussions with the government regarding the future of the franchise following a £137 million loss, with termination of the contract being a possibility.
By mid-2020, SWR had considerably curtailed its services in response to the significant decline of passenger travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. From 15 June 2020, both passengers and staff on public transport in England, including SWR services, were required to wear face coverings while travelling, and that anyone failing to do so would be liable to be refused travel or fined.
In December 2020, it was announced that terms for the abolition of the franchise system for SWR had been agreed, and that the company would be given a management contract to run until 1 April 2023 when the ERMA (Emergency Recovery Measures Agreement) for the franchise ends in March 2021. During October 2021, the contract was updated with a finish date of 28 May 2023, with an option to extend further if required by the DfT.
In February 2023, the contract was further extended until May 2025.
SWR is one of several train operators impacted by the 2022–2023 United Kingdom railway strikes, which are the first national rail strikes in the UK for three decades. Its workers are amongst those who are participating in industrial action due to a dispute over pay and working conditions. SWR is capable of operating a minimal timetable on any of the planned dates for the strikes due to the number of staff involved.
South Western Railway (Train Operating Company) Overview
South Western Railway Franchise(s): South Western
20 August 2017 – 28 May 2025
South Western Railway Main Region(s):
South East England
South West England
South Western Railway Fleet Size:
Class 158 Express Sprinter
Class 159 South Western Turbo
Class 444 Desiro
Class 450 Desiro
Class 458 Juniper
Class 484 D-Train
Class 707 Desiro City
Class 701 Arterio (delivery from 2023)
South Western Railway Parent Company:
MTR Corporation (30%)
South Western Railway Reporting Mark: SW
South Western Railway Predecessor: South West Trains