NO DOUBT, like many Daily Echo readers, I was quite surprised to learn that Stagecoach had lost the contract to provide rail services throughout our region.
From my viewpoint as a fairly regular rail user, I felt that they’ve not done too bad a job overall, particularly with the introduction of the Siemens electric trains on the majority of routes and station improvements undertaken over the last 20 years or so.
However, that will soon pass into history and I hope that FirstGroup/MTR will indeed be true to their word with regard to the raft of enhancements they plan to make during the life of the new franchise. In particular, I welcome the prospect of the proposed additional 29 weekday and Saturday trains on the Portsmouth to Southampton line; the present hourly SWT service between these two cities is derisory in this day & age, providing relatively little incentive for commuters to abandon the M27 in favour of using rail.
One area that needs to be addressed is the current lengthy interchange times at both ends for connections to certain other services from this route, particularly the 23 minutes for the London ‘fast’ at Central. The most ridiculous timetabling situation has existed for a number of years at St Denys, where the Romsey to Salisbury (via Southampton) diesel unit pulls into the station at exactly the same time as that from Portsmouth, the two trains then proceed on parallel tracks to Northam Junction, the electric unit is then held there for the Salisbury train to travel a safe distance in front, before it can continue to its destination. Apart from the fact that this invariably seems to cause the ex-Portsmouth service to arrive several minutes late, it means that it is usually impossible to interchange between the two at St Denys (unless the diesel is running behind schedule!) and so customers for Salisbury have to endure an hour’s wait at Central for the next train.
I know that creating timetables is a very difficult process, with several routes in the Southampton area having to be ‘dovetailed’ together, including freight trains, but surely it must be feasible to design in a proper connection in this particular instance?
Of course, any service frequency enhancements will obviously require more rolling stock and thus I was also pleased to learn that the incoming franchisee plans to tender for a fleet of new trains for which Siemens must be a strong contender, as that would ensure compatibility with those already in use.
However, for use on the main line, perhaps FirstGroup/MTR ought to consider bringing back the popular “Wessex electrics” that Stagecoach dispensed with and which were subsequently used on Gatwick Express services from Victoria?
These have all been superseded by brand new trains better suited to airport use and thus virtually all of the former units have ended up in a railway yard at Ely in Cambridgeshire, with no current work for them, which seems to be a terrible waste of resources.