Stagecoach loses out to First MTR on the South Western rail franchise
The new South Western rail franchise has been awarded to First MTR South Western Trains Ltd, a 70:30 joint venture between FirstGroup plc and MTR Corporation Limited. The franchise, which had been successfully operated by the Stagecoach Group for over 20 years, commences on 20 August 2017 and will continue until at least August 2024.

Over the course of the franchise, First MTR South Western Trains will be committing £1.2bn to an ambitious programme of improvement across the network.

These will include 750 new carriages on the Windsor, Reading and London suburban routes by December 2020, 18 additional fully refurbished trains on the London-Portsmouth route from December 2018, 52,000 more peak seats a day into and out of London Waterloo by December 2020, and refreshment of the rest of the mainland fleet.

From December 2018 more frequent and additional services will be run across the franchise, and through services will be re-introduce between Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth to aid regional connectivity.

Mobile and smart ticketing are to be introduced and fares improved. Among the benefits will be flexible season tickets, new lower fares for 16-18 year olds and an easy-to-use delay repay scheme to simplify compensation claims.

Stations and carparks are to receive £90m of investment including a major refurbishment at Southampton Central station while many station buildings will be developed to host community projects and independent retailers.

An important objective of the franchise is to increase engagement with customers, employees, local authorities and community groups to give them a real stake in the future of rail travel in their area. An annual £2.6m fund is to be launched to support community projects across the franchise from April 2020. The company also plans to introduce the biggest rail operator apprenticeship scheme in Britain.

Are you prepared for the apprenticeship levy in April?
Neil RobertsonNeil Robertson, CEO of The National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) has warned that rail organisations could miss out on substantial benefits if they are unprepared for the new apprenticeship levy to be introduced in April. The new regulations mean that employers with wage bills of more than £3m must put 0.5% of their payroll into the levy to fund new apprenticeships. The Government’s aim is to double spending on apprentices in England and create 30,000 extra rail and road apprenticeships by the end of the current parliament.

According to a recent survey around a third of employers liable to pay the new levy are not even aware of its existence. Only a third feel fully informed about the new rules and 28% are unsure  whether it would affect their business.

Neil Robertson, CEO of NSAR, said: “The effects of the new levy on the rail industry will be significant. If managed and run correctly, the new changes need have no adverse financial effects. If ignored, it will become just another government tax.” Neil is positive about the opportunities the levy could create: “Employers we’ve spoken to that have already got to grips with it have confirmed that it is likely to encourage them to hire more. It can help provide greater control of apprenticeship programmes and improve their quality. It will also place greater focus on apprenticeship opportunities which will help fill vacancies, something that can be a challenge.”

NSAR has designed and built a levy planner tool to help organisations assess its effects on their business and help support the development and investment in the skills for the future.

Forgetful Railcard holders are first to benefit from industry-wide ticketing improvements
The rail industry has announced the first of a series of schemes to improve the fares and ticketing. The move comes following an action plan agreed last December between the rail industry, government and consumer groups. Train travellers who forget to carry Railcards with their discount tickets and end up paying more will be given the chance to claim the money back.

In the past, anyone travelling on cheaper tickets bought with a Railcard had to carry it at all times on the journey to qualify for the discount. Failing to do so could result in paying more or a penalty fare.

The rule change by all train companies means that someone asked to pay extra for failing to show a Railcard will be guaranteed a refund on at least the first occasion in any year, provided they can produce the Railcard later. Jacqueline Starr, managing director of customer experience at the Rail Delivery Group said: “Customers make honest mistakes sometimes, we think Railcard holders should have one chance a year to be refunded if they’ve had to pay extra for forgetting theirs. We’re planning digital Railcards too that people can keep on smartphones and other devices if they prefer, making them harder to forget and easier to replace if lost or stolen. These changes are part of wider plans to transform fares and ticketing, which is why we’re also trialling radical changes that would make it much easier for customers to choose the best value ticket for their journey.”

eTickets take off
Virgin Trains West Coast, in partnership with Trainline, began offering eTickets in August 2016. Gatwick Express and TransPennine Express followed suit and Caledonian Sleeper will offer them soon. In the first 6 months over 1.4m have been sold. Mobile friendly eTickets can be used through a train company app, in Apple Wallet and by email.

Australia trains the young
As part of Downer EDI’s $2bn contract to build 65 high capacity metro trains for Melbourne, 15% of work will be done by local apprentices, trainees and engineering cadets. Some 1100 high-skilled jobs are to be created, including 51 opportunities for apprentices, 40 trainees and five cadets. Previous administrations had planned to offshore the work to South Korea.

Innovation kick start?
London Midland has chosen ten technology start-ups for a 12 week scheme to develop solutions that improve the passenger experience. Working from the London Midland labs their projects include a queueing avoidance app, a rapid response passenger compensation platform, facial recognition technology and a sensory messaging service for the hearing impaired.

Mitsui completes franchise deal
The sale of 40% of Abellio’s Greater Anglian rail franchise to Japanese firm Mitsui has been completed following the approval of DfT. Abellio, which has run the franchise since 2012, remains in overall control. The new partnership promises to deliver £1.4bn investment over nine years, with new trains and average journey times reduced by 10%.

A starring role
The Rail Delivery Group has stepped up its campaign, Britain Runs on Rail, which tells the story of today’s railways. From 20 March 2017, a series of advertisements are being aired on television, in newspapers and on social media, and of course at railway stations, illustrating the crucial role rail plays in keeping people and freight moving.

What’s on your mind?
A nationwide poll by A-SAFE has revealed that over half (58%) of people working in the logistics and transport industry lose sleep as a direct result of workplace worries. Of these, 16% regularly lose sleep and 40% experience occasional sleep loss. The biggest work worries were job security (37%), line managers (32%) and budget concerns (28%).

The smart move to Swift
Transport for West Midlands has begun to roll out the new look Swift smartcard to rail passengers. Users of its nTrain direct debit ticket scheme are being switched to Swift and will be able to use it within the region on Virgin Trains, Chiltern Railways, Arriva Trains Wales and Cross Country trains. Swift is successfully used on the region’s bus and tram networks.

Public transport use rises in London
In a new report Crossroads – choosing a future for London’s transport in the digital age, The Institute for Public Policy Research has concluded that there has been a 10.4% shift from private to public transport between 2010 and 2015. Public and active transport now account for 64% of all one-way commuter journeys in the capital.