Passengers in parts of the south-west and south-east are being urged to have their say on the future of the rail service, which operates in parts of Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight.
Major improvements to tackle overcrowding, boost punctuality and deliver better journeys are planned during the next franchise, which is due to start in 2017 when the current South West Trains contract comes to an end. Around 14% of all passenger journeys in the UK are made on the South Western network.
The consultation sets out the expected improvements for the next franchise, including the completion of planned major work at London Waterloo to lengthen platforms 1 to 4 and bring the former international platforms back into use, allowing for longer trains and more space. From 2017, a new fleet of 30 five-car trains is also planned to tackle overcrowding, in addition to the 108 extra carriages being introduced during the current franchise as part of a £65 million government scheme.
One of the most controversial aspects of the consultation concerns the future of the sole remaining line on the Isle of Wight. According to the Department for Transport, the next operator will be required to work with the council, community and stakeholders to develop plans to turn the Island Line from Ryde to Shanklin, which serves the Isle of Wight, into a separate and self-sustaining business during the life of the next franchise. This will, according to the department, help deliver the services that local people need, while putting the line on a more sustainable footing for the future and reducing costs. However, local reaction on the Isle of Wight to the proposal has been hostile, with calls to ensure that the line remains part of the new franchise for the complete period.
The work of the Peninsula Rail Task Force — which is looking at improving the long-term resilience of the rail network in Devon and Cornwall — will also be taken into account as the government develops its plans for the franchise.
The 12-week consultation closes on 9 February 2016.