On track

In charge of the Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services, the Govia Thameslink Railway franchise is in the process of transforming the railway network for millions of passengers

Part of Govia, a joint venture between the Go- Ahead Group and Keolis, which have 65 per cent and 35 per cent shares respectively, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) began operations in September 2014 and has become the largest rail franchise in the UK in terms of passenger numbers, trains, revenue and staff. Serving London and other regional centres such Cambridge, Luton and Peterborough to the north of the region, as well as Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton in the south, the company also provides direct links to major airports and St Pancras International.

“We are a unique franchise, which was created for a specific purpose,” says Charles Horton, Chief Executive Officer at Govia Thameslink Railway. “This part of the railway has gone through a huge period of growth, with some of the most significant growth in the entire UK rail network seen here. Having seen a doubling of journeys across the GTR network over the last 16 years as well as a doubling of journeys on our Southern network over the last 12 years specifically, we have been created to transform the railway by supporting the delivery of the Thameslink programme. This is GTR 146 bthe upgrade of infrastructure through central London, the introduction of four new fleets of trains to deliver new ways of working and making the best of technology and of course the improvement of information and passenger experience. Beginning in September 2014, the franchise brought together two existing businesses, Southern and Southern Gatwick Express as well as Thameslink and Great Northern Services. Connected together, a large franchise was created with the purpose of delivering a huge amount of change.”

Responsible for 270 million passenger journeys everyyear, GTR operates with 6500 personnel who all strive to ensure its 3200 train services a day operate as theyshould. With 320 stations within its network, 236 ofwhich it manages, the franchise generates approximately£1.3 billion of passenger revenues annually. Committedto modernising its services, GTR is in the process of providing passengers with faster, easier and more seamless journeys into and across central London, with rail travellers from 80 more stations benefiting from direct access to St Pancras International, Farringdon for Crossrail, City Thameslink and Blackfriars when work is completed in December 2018. Moreover, the franchise will boost the speed of journeys and relieve congestionon the railway and London’s tube thanks to 24 trains per hour operating between Blackfriars and St PancrasInternational as well as 80 per cent more peak time seats and relief for the Northern, Piccadilly and Northern tube lines. “With the influx of 24 trains per hour also comes the delivery of a huge boost in capacity, with a massive 10,000 extra seats provided into London,” notes Charles.

To further enhance operations, GTR is also establishing new direct Thameslink routes through London between Cambridge and Brighton, Horsham and Peterborough, Cambridge and Maidstone East; Luton and Kent MedwayTowns, Littlehampton and Bedford and East Grinstead and Bedford. These journeys will also be faster and more seamless, with Cambridge to Gatwick 20 per cent fasterthan it is at present for passengers and Greenwich toLuton Airport 37 per cent faster than its current time.

In addition to these improvements and the expansionof the cross-London Thameslink network, GTR will alsobe simplifying timetables to ensure it can meet the needsof growing passenger numbers, as Charles highlights: “The timetable changes will connect more people to theThameslink network, so certain places on the Southernor Great Northern services will now become part of this network, such as Cambridge and Peterborough on Great Northern or East Grinstead, Horsham or Little Hampton in Kent. The tentacles of Thameslink will stretch rightacross the south east region, with people offered far moreoptions and opportunities to connect in with other rail services and benefit from easier journeys to, through and right across London.

“Furthermore, the final part of the timetable changes addresses some longstanding performance issues thathave been challenging for this part of the railway network for a long time. In response to this, we are simplifyingthe ways we organise timetables and are managing the timetables in a different way so we are better able todeal with delays and recover from delays. By doing this,customers get a more reliable and punctual service.”

In addition to these major changes, the company alsocontinues to invest in improving the quality of informationthat it provides to passengers through the improvementof systems and technology; it has also invested inupgrading ticket machines and stations so customers benefit from lighter, brighter stations and an easier, morestress-free journey from the start. “On top of these changes, we have enhanced our retailing on the web andinvested a huge amount in smart ticketing, which makes it much easier for people to use their smart card right across the GTR area. There is now WiFi at 104 of our business stations, as well as more staffing at stations and more staff on trains thanks to our On-board Supervisor concept, so people can receive assistance and get theinformation they need.”

With the programme progressing well, GTR is on track with its developments and anticipates customers willsoon see results of the major work that has taken placeover the last three years. “Over the next 12 months we are foot to the floor in delivering the final elements of this transformation and are in the process of introducing more new trains onto the Thameslink network. We are workingwith the whole industry to ensure all changes that aredelivered not only benefit the GTR network but spreadright across the south-east region for all customers,”Charles concludes.