New firm affirms commitment to Guildford rail link

By Farnham Herald in Transport

DIRECT Farnham to Guildford rail services could be reinstated from December 2018, the new operator of the South West Trains (SWT) franchise has confirmed.

FirstGroup, in partnership with Hong Kong Metro operator MTR, won the SWT franchise from current operator Stagecoach in March after promising to invest £1.2 billion across the network.

This included a return to the original Farnham to Guildford services abandoned decades ago in favour of an interchange at Aldershot - with the potential to cut journey times by as much as 15 minutes between the two Surrey towns.

Expanding on its plans this week, FirstGroup confirmed the new service would likely run half-hourly, in addition to the current half-hourly Alton to London Waterloo services, and will be subject to a public consultation next spring.

The operator has also confirmed the Station Hill level crossing in Farnham will need to be closed more frequently as a result - but said it is working with Network Rail to ensure “minimal disruption to pedestrian and road traffic”.

A FirstGroup spokesman said: “We are currently in the process of finalising our plans for the December 2018 timetable which we have already said will deliver more frequent and faster services. One of the services is the Farnham to Guildford route, which is proposed to be a half hourly service.

“Specific details will be available once the timetable is published for the public consultation when everyone can have their say on the plans. The industry standard for timetable publication would suggest that December 2018 will be finalised by May 2018.”

The spokesman also reassured passengers that existing services to Alton and Bentley will not change in terms of frequency.

“Currently customers would change at Aldershot to reach these destinations, however with the additional service we are proposing they can choose to change at Aldershot or Farnham to reach their destinations,” they added.

FirstGroup MTR has also promised to improve weekend services, with more than 400 extra Sunday trains across the SWT network to match weekday off-peak services on most routes from December 2018.

In addition, there is the promise of increased peak seating, an new innovative customer app with mobile ticketing, better Wi-Fi speed and coverage, £90 million in station investment, and at least 1,500 new car parking spaces.

Just last month it was also announced FirstGroup MTR have signed a £895 million order for 90 new commuter trains for the South West franchise - including 750 new carriages - to be built at the Bombardier plant in Derby, the country’s oldest train manufacturing site.

• A new Transport for the South East (TfSE) partnership was launched last week to transform the region’s transport network for the travelling public and businesses and to ensure the area remains a driver of the UK economy.

TfSE will devise an integrated transport strategy to focus the attention of ministers on the area’s needs and will directly influence when and where money is invested in the South East’s transport network.

The new partnership brings together the area’s 16 transport authorities and five local enterprise partnerships to work directly with the Department for Transport. It will also involve road and rail-builders Highways England and Network Rail, transport operators, users and other key interest groups.

A sub-national transport body, TfSE is currently operating in shadow form but intends to secure full Government backing and statutory powers within two years.

Surrey County Council leader David Hodge said: “This is an important step towards our aim of improving travel for commuters and businesses in the region, whether that’s by rail, road or air.

“Not only will working as one team in this way give us a bigger say on delivering better transport, it will mean we can help to drive growth in the engine room of the nation’s economy.”

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