I’m a South West Trains commuter. Less often than I used to, but still several times a week I head from Alton to London Waterloo on the train that’s named 10th busiest in the UK.
All in all, I’m probably a ‘not-unhappy’ customer.
The journey’s OK, the train is sometimes late, it’s sometimes early and when there’s problems they make us change at Woking.
My ticket is no more expensive than it was when I commuted from Brighton to London, the WiFi only occasionally works, and the seats arrangement on the blue class 450 trains was clearly not designed with the current human form in mind.
Stagecoach have held the franchise since it was privatised many years ago, and they’re pretty confident at making it work how it does. When things go wrong, they say sorry (awfully, usually, but still) and when things don’t they just get on with reminding us from time to time that they operate the UK’s busiest and most congested bit of railway and hope we’re all impressed.
Most of us are, but with that attitude, it’s not unsurprising that the ‘new boy’ bidder First-MTR were more creative with their bid and ended up being picked by the DfT to run the service from soon.
They’ve promised a load of new trains, replacing the bitty non-siemens fleet with a consistent one, and to cut down journey times as well as introducing new journeys.
The bit I’m most excited about is a commitment to introduce part-time season tickets for those of us who don’t go to London every day, and a plan to put power sockets in every single train.
If I’m honest, and I know you’ll want me to be, I’ll be impressed if they manage to pull it all off and keep their ability to get themselves out of bother when one of the ‘newly refurbished’ (30ish year old) plastic pigs they introduce on the Portsmouth line conks out in the middle of the peak.
I don’t want you to get me wrong – I live in the world of promising and delivering myself, and I know how it can go – but the fact they’re already negotiating over changing the start date isn’t a good sign.
You might not have noticed, but Waterloo is having some pretty major work done during August (it’s been planned since before the tender process began) to increase capacity for longer trains, meaning most trains won’t run to Waterloo for the month.
SWT have been warning us all to take the whole of August off for months, but rumour has it the new guys have only just realised that taking over the network half way through that might not be a good idea and – it would seem – the contract at the moment remains unsigned while that gets figured out.
And that wasn’t a problem for anyone until Teresa May ‘snapped’ earlier in the week. Oh well.