GTR – a franchise formed to transform passenger services

Posted: 9 December 2015 | Charles Horton, Chief Executive Officer, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) | 1 comment

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is now Britain’s biggest rail franchise – carrying 237 million passenger journeys a year and earning the Department for Transport (DfT) £1.3 billion in annual passenger revenue. Operating over 3,200 services every weekday, plus managing 236 stations and including 6,800 staff, the business oversees four different networks of Southern, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern. So why have GTR been given the keys to this super new franchise? Chief Executive Officer, Charles Horton, explains…

GTR – a franchise formed to transform passenger services

Put simply, it’s to unlock billions of pounds of investment that will transform passengers’ journeys. Because the story of GTR is a story of delivery; and it’s something that any CEO would give his right arm to oversee.

Our seven-year franchise is going to deliver four new train fleets, new services, a step-change in capacity, better stations, better staffing and improved timetables.

The Thameslink Programme

At the heart of all this is our joint delivery with Network Rail of the government-sponsored £6.5 billion Thameslink Programme which, by 2018, will have linked together towns in Sussex and Kent, plus along the East Coast Mainline into the Thameslink route, offering direct cross-London journeys with the type of benefits such as Cambridge to Gatwick in just 1 hour 40 minutes – that’s 30 minutes quicker than today’s trip by train and Tube.

Not the ‘normal’ franchise

The franchise is an unusual one. We receive fare income from passengers as usual but then pass this to the DfT, whereas most other UK passenger rail franchises keep this income and account for it as their revenue. We instead receive regular cash payments from the government for operating the franchise and for bearing the risks and liabilities that this responsibility entails. We can also earn additional payments from DfT if we ensure that the Thameslink Programme meets its key milestone dates; however, we can lose this income if we don’t deliver the programme on time with industry partners…

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One response to “GTR – a franchise formed to transform passenger services”

  1. Charles Gent says:

    As a fare paying end user, and someone who has a reasonable amount of knowledge of the franchise, it strikes me that the only thing that GTR has delivered me recently is some delay repay vouchers – and plenty of them. Having used the service for the last five years it has rapidly deteriorated over the last three, with no prospect of it getting any better – no not even the magical 2015 timetable will make things significantly better.

    Those who wrote the contract and set the parameters for performance need to have a long hard look at the proposition that they offered bidders and the performance targets they set. I can’t believe what GTR were led to believe the prospects would be this bad when they bid for the franchise. Why should passengers continue to pay full price for a service that, under the old compensation regime, would likely be offering 5%/10% discounts.

    When substantial projects such as Thameslink (2000, remember that?) are planned the industry needs to look at what level of service passengers can reasonably expect, be honest about that and say “if it doesn’t hit that mark, we’ll compensate you”. Delay repay isn’t enough on its own; it fails to capture the persistent 10 – 20 minute delays that eat into my evenings and cause significant frustration to my family as the resulting delay to me is often greater. Resolving this is not however in the gift of GTR, it now sits squarely with DFT who control the purse strings. Not many of my fellow passengers appreciate that.

    And before undertaking such a massive project as London Bridge why not make sure the lines leading up to it are up to scratch before you place the timetable on a knife edge. It stands to reason if the existing network is so fragile (as acknowledged in the Simpson report) that stretching things even further might result in disastrous consequences.

    New trains are all well and good but when they are constantly late it doesn’t matter how shiny and nice they are. Southern’s marketing team tell us their new trains are made for Xmas; the trains on which I travel are more like a Nightmare Before Christmas.

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