The new franchise starts on 20 August 2017. Here’s everything you need to know about how the new franchise will impact the business, your role as an employee, and our customers.
About the new franchise
FirstGroup is a leading transport operator in the UK and North America. Within the rail industry we are known for running Great Western Railway, TransPennine Express and Hull Trains, the latter recently winning Rail operator of the year. MTR are an experienced operator of railway services around the world. In the UK they previously ran the London Overground network and have recently started operating Crossrail services in London.
We’re hoping to keep HQ at Friar’s Bridge Court. Whatever happens, we will have an HQ office close to Waterloo.
How will you communicate franchise information with staff before 20 August?
We’ll work with Stagecoach to regularly update staff with our plans before the new franchise starts to ensure employees are ready for day one of the new franchise. We’ll communicate through various channels including in person via roadshows, via SWT official channels including email and via this website. We will ensure employees are informed as soon as possible with details of the new franchise, sharing our vision for the new business and what role they will play in it.
What will South West Trains be known as under the new franchise?
We know there has been a lot of intrigue and excitement about the new brand. We’re currently putting the finishing touches to the brand and hope to be able to announce everything soon, including the new name. From there we hope to have branded accessories ready for day one of the new franchise. From the start of the new franchise, we’ll go through a new branding process to make sure the new brand and vision is reflected across the network.
What it means for contracts and processes
Will my contract/salary be the same?
As an employees of South West Trains you will automatically become an employee of the new franchise at the point of transfer. You’ll carry with you your continuous service, and will continue to enjoy the same terms and conditions of employment with us.
What benefits do FirstGroup/MTR offer?
We offer a range of benefits including savings plans, discount schemes at a range of high street and online retailers and role specific benefits.
What travel benefits will you offer?
Current employees will receive free travel across the new franchise for them, their spouse / partner and eligible dependents; in addition to discounts across other train operating companies provided by the Rail Delivery Group TOC Privilege Card. We’ll also offer travel benefits across the other companies that we operate as well as review existing discretionary travel benefits you currently receive. There will be no changes to travel arrangements for safeguarded staff.
Will First MTR continue to operate reciprocal travel arrangements with Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel for travel to/from the Isle of Wight?
We know how popular these arrangements are with staff and hope to keep them in place for the new franchise. We’re currently reviewing the arrangement and hope to have something confirmed for you soon.
Will current South West Trains policies (e.g. attendance, maternity etc.) continue to apply at the beginning of the new franchise?
When the new franchise starts, these policies will stay as they currently are. As with all policies, these may be reviewed as the franchise goes on. If there are any changes to be made, these will be consulted on.
What collective bargaining procedures for discussing matters with the trade unions will First Group MTR follow when implementing their proposed changes?
At the start of the new franchise, we will still use the 1996 procedures that are currently in place.
Will there be any changes to employee handbooks as a result of the new franchise?
Like other policies and processes, employee handbooks will stay the same when the new franchise starts. These will be reviewed but any amendments put forward will go through a consultation as you would expect.
With the new franchise, will there be any changes to pay dates, payslips or the way our pay is processed?
When staff become employees of First MTR in the new franchise, there will be no changes to the pay process or how you are paid. The pay dates will roll over so you will get paid on the date that you expect it.
If I am on maternity / paternity leave / career break or I am long-term sick, what will happen to my employment when the franchise changes ownership?
When the new franchise starts, these policies will stay as they currently are. As with all policies, these may be reviewed as the franchise goes on. If there are any changes to be made, these will be subject to consultation as you would expect.
For anyone currently on maternity/paternity leave/ career break/ long term sick, they will carry on with no changes to the current process.
Will there be any changes to the current contractual position for redeployed staff?
It’s hard to say without knowing the full details of all redeployed staff but we will honour all procedures agreed through the collective bargaining agreement.
What will happen to current HR cases at the change of franchise, for example managing for attendance stages?
We’ll carry over the current SSWT processes and policies to the new franchise. This means that the current HR cases will be maintained and will continue.
How will the change in franchise owner impact my railway pension?
There is no impact on your pension with the two pension schemes continuing as they are. You will remain in the same section of the Railways Pension Scheme and continue to build benefits as normal. There will be no changes to BRASS as a result of the new franchise with existing matching continuing. First MTR will replace South West Trains as the sponsoring/designated employer.
Day to day roles
New franchises do mean change. At the same time, our plans build on solid foundations and they avoid change for change’s sake. For a lot of people across the business, not a great deal will change. We’ll make an effort to involve these people by letting them know how things are developing and getting their ideas. For some people, the changes will affect them and we’ll ensure their views and ideas are taken into account before any plans and drawn up. Where changes are proposed to people’s jobs we will consult appropriately.
Will you be introducing DOO/DCO?
Our bid proposals do not rely on driver controlled operation, and it was not mandated in the invitation to tender. Any changes we might make would be subject to consultation in the normal way, as you would expect.
What training and development opportunities will be available?
We’re passionate about giving you the opportunity to develop your skills and progress your journey with us, and there will be development opportunities across the business.. We’ll also introduce an innovative approach to learning, introducing a Learning Management System which will supplement the training you receive in the classroom and on demand, giving you course content whenever you want it.
What is happening to our uniform?
Front line staff will be supplied with updated accessories reflecting the new brand on day 1 of the new franchise. We’ll then run a consultation with staff to gather your views on what you would like your uniform to be. This initiative has been successful when run previously in GWR, with staff happier with their resulting uniform.
Will we all transfer to new email addresses? Will we still have access to emails from our current South West Trains address?
We are currently in discussion with Stagecoach as to how best to provide access to emails. Once we have made a decision we will let you know. As with all potential changes, we will try to minimise any disruption.
Will we change our mobile fleet to Android, in line with other First Group companies?
Staff who currently hold an issued mobile device will retain this. As new devices are required these will be replaced with Android devices. This is because our staff apps development programme is for Android devices, helping to provide more information for staff.
Will staff parking permits for our stations still be available in the new franchise?
We have no plans to change the current availability of staff parking permits for stations. Any changes we may make during the franchise will follow the standard process of consultation and risk assessments as you would expect.
Gateline staff at GWR currently have the ability to issue tickets – will our gateline staff be trained to do this?
Initially we have no plans to train gateline staff to issue tickets. That being said, we’re always looking for ways to train our staff and increase the customer experience. Any changes we do propose such as this will go through a full consultation with staff.
Are any traincrew depot closures anticipated in the new franchise?
We do not anticipate any depot closures in the new franchise.
Will we be able to apply internally for vacancies at other First Group companies?
When vacancies become available for any role we will welcome applicants from across First TOCs. Keep an eye on what roles we are recruiting for at https://uk.firstgroupcareers.com/. Once the franchise starts we’ll send regular updates with where our current vacancies are for anyone interested.
Will our guards continue to use the Envoy system for issuing tickets under the new franchise?
Yes, guards will continue to use the Envoy system.
Will we continue to use the Fujitsu STAR system in our ticket offices?
Yes, we’ll keep this system in ticket offices although this will be upgraded as part of an industry wide programme. We’ll release more details of this closer to the time of upgrade.
Do First Group MTR have any plans to move the train planning unit to Swindon?
We have no plans to move the train planning unit to Swindon.
We currently use the South West Trains intranet to deliver essential maintenance documents to our front line engineering teams. What intentions are there to take this forward?
We are currently exploring options with Stagecoach as to how we continue to provide this critical documentation during and after the transition into the new franchise.
Will fleet maintenance remain in house during the new franchise?
Our strategy is to keep as much fleet maintenance in house as we can. We haven’t confirmed our new rolling stock supplier and this will need to be finalised before we can release details associated with this. Any changes proposed will go through a full consultation as you would expect.
Will we continue to operate recruitment in house under the new franchise, and will it still be based at Southampton?
From the start of the franchise, everything will stay as it currently is with employees in the same roles. The FirstGroup model that is used in our other TOCs sees local recruitment teams supported by a central group function. That being said, we know each TOC is different and what may work for one TOC may not work for another. We’ll review the processes once the franchise starts with any proposed changes undergoing consultation.
Will we continue to operate our customer service centre in house under the new franchise, and will it still be based in Southampton?
From franchise start we will retain the customer service centre. We want to make the new franchise one that is completely customer focused. When the new franchise starts, there will be no initial changes. We will see what current structure and processes are in place and work with you to see how we can improve. Any changes we do propose will be subject to a full consultation.
What is the future for agency cleaning staff based at our traincare depots?
At present we are not fully aware of full agency worker details. Traincare and train presentation is a key priority for the franchise and therefore we will maintain teams to undertake these important roles.
How we’ll be improving the network
We’ll be introducing 90 new trains on Reading, Windsor and London routes by December 2020. As well as this, we’ll be refurbishing existing trains with charging sockets and seat covers.
How will you deal with the improvements of Waterloo station that take place when the new franchise starts?
We will work with all relevant parties to make sure there is a smooth transition between Stagecoach and ourselves, minimising disruption as much as we can for customers and staff.
What is happening to the Island Line?
We’ll be working closely with local Isle of Wight bodies to develop a business plan to create a more sustainable line and better service for our passengers.
Are there any plans for service or rolling stock changes for the West of England line?
As well as the changes taking place across the whole fleet (full refurbishment, improved WI-FI, infotainment etc.), we’ll be adding more seats on the West of England line to existing trains: 6% on Class 158s and 159s by December 2020. We’ll also be improving services to Yeovil Pen Mill and Warminster as well as giving West of England two trains per hour earlier on a Sunday.
What changes to the timetable are expected in the new franchise, and when will these commence?
The first timetable changes of the new franchise will take place in December 2017 and May 2018. After these there will be a further change in December 2018 which will involve a full public consultation. The first consultation will be at the end of this year where we will seek to find out how we can improve the service further for customers. Once we have something finalised and ready to announce, we’ll make sure employees are the first to know.
What is the future for the alliance with Network Rail (Wessex route)?
From the start of the new franchise, there will be no changes to with teams and reporting lines staying as they currently are. We know that successful delivery of our objectives depends in part on good working relationships across the industry and we are committed to expanding that integration where it will have the most impact on passengers’ experience. In the current franchise, there is already a strong working relationship with Network Rail and we will build on that integration where it will have the most impact on passengers’ experience, continuing to work together on specific projects where we both can see benefits from greater alignment.
First Group MTR have indicated that they will introduce a second semi-fast service between Portsmouth and Southampton Central. What does this mean, and which communities will this serve?
We propose to mainly run this service between Southampton Central, Swanwick, Fareham, Portchester, Cosham, Fratton, Portsmouth Southsea and Portsmouth Harbour. All changes we propose are subject to a full public consultation.
Will there be any improvements to the Chessington branch line?
Improvements we have proposed on the Chessington branch line include a half hourly service from the start of service until the end. All proposed changes are subject to a full public consultation.
What plans are there to improve stations on the Isle of Wight?
We’ll be working closely with the Isle of Wight Council and other stakeholders to discuss our proposals and develop a plan for Island Line which will involve any station improvements. We have a £90m station investment programme for the whole network and we’ll also be implementing free WI-FI at all stations.
Changes to the customer experience
How will Smartcard users be affected by the change of franchisee?
Smartcard users will not be affected when the new franchise starts and tickets will still be valid. If we make any changes to smartcards throughout the franchise, we will consult with all parties involved and aim to minimise disruption for customers and staff.
How will the new franchise impact tenants at our stations?
We’re passionate about working with the local community and tenants to make the most of the station space. We won’t be looking to make major changes and we’ll aim to carry on with existing tenancies much like they are now.
We’re making improvements across the network including installing wifi at all stations, refurbishing waiting rooms and improving accessibility. In addition, we’ll be significantly investing to improve Southampton Central station for staff and the community that it serves. We’ll also be giving passengers at stations live information on seating availability, letting passengers know where best to stand to board emptier carriages.
How will you improve the on-board experience?
We’ll be introducing new trains and refurbishing old ones to make to on board experience better. This includes free on-board wifi, at seat charging points and improved toilets.
Goldcard holders currently receive complimentary tickets for use on SWT services – what happens to the validity of these after 19 August?
We’re currently looking into the full complimentary offering that Goldcard holders currently receive and we hope to be able to announce our proposition soon.
Can we continue to sell tickets marked ‘via SWT only’ for use after 19 August?
Yes, these tickets will flow through to the new franchise. Our aim is to make the transition as easy as possible for customers and staff. This means that for day one of the new franchise, not much will change apart from the name of the owning company.
Will we receive new printed timetables (and other station literature) for use after 19 August?
From the start of the new franchise, we’ll go through a new branding process to make sure the new brand is reflected across the network. This includes station literature as well as other branded accessories.
What is the future for our on-board catering provision during the new franchise? Will we continue to use Rail Gourmet?
We’ll be looking to improve the catering offering in the new franchise and we are currently exploring the options around this. We’re looking at options including Rail Gourmet and hope to be able to confirm something soon.
Will there still be an independent passenger panel in the new franchise?
We’ll be introducing an online forum for customers interested in the new franchise. This forum will be open for any customers to sign up for, letting them give feedback on a number of topics regarding the South Western network. We believe having an online platform will let more people give feedback while letting us be more reactive making changes.
Will our TVMs be replaced / upgraded with different models during the new franchise?
We’ll be upgrading the TVM software creating a much easier to use interface for our customers, helping them find the most appropriate fare for their journey.
Will First Group MTR retain the current South West Trains website, or will it be replaced?
The franchise website will be replaced with a new site to reflect the new brand and vision of the franchise. We inform employees of all things regarding the new brand as soon as we can. This will include the new name, logo and the new website.
Are there any plans to improve CCTV coverage?
We’ll be running a full review of all CCTV operations across the network. We’ll be looking to see if there is anywhere where the CCTV isn’t up to scratch and make improvements where necessary.