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South Western – Information for employees

Welcome to the FirstGroup MTR South Western site for South West Trains employees. Over the next four months, we will be working with colleagues from Stagecoach to keep you updated on plans for the coming franchise. This site will act as an overview of our plans. As new information becomes available, we will update the site.

As with all new franchises, there will be some changes which will focus on providing our customers with the best service possible. We are building on the solid foundations of the existing franchise, so we do not propose to start everything from scratch. We do however want to understand what people think will work best. Alongside the information on our plans, you will see we have provided a series of Frequently Asked Questions and responses. These come from our shared experience of starting and ending franchises. If you have any suggestions for further questions you would like to see added to this site, please find the contact details at the bottom of the page.

At this stage we are not able to post responses to questions about changes to people’s roles and responsibilities as the aim of this site at this stage is to share general information about the new franchise rather than consult on specific changes.

We’ll be investing £1.2bn over the course of the franchise to raise the quality of every aspect of train journeys on the South Western network. A key part of this investment will be investing in our people.

Our aim is to increase our customers’ opportunity to travel with us. We will introduce new, more spacious carriages as well as refurbishing existing trains, delivering more seats at peak times during the day. We will introduce additional and faster journey times across the network with simplified fares as well as mobile and smart ticketing.

There’ll be a number of opportunities for employees working in the new franchise. We invest in our people, offering training and development across the business at all levels, giving you the opportunity to increase your skills and progress your career with us. We’ll introduce a staff app, making sure you have the information you need when you need it, where you need it. We’ve budgeted for improving staff accommodation and we hope to hear your idea on where this can be best invested. Once the new franchise is underway, we’ll get your feedback on what works best for you in terms of uniform. You’ll also receive the benefits enjoyed by other FirstGroup and MTR colleagues.

We look forward to working with you, sharing our ideas and building on your achievements.

Steve Montgomery (Managing Director, First Rail)
Jeremy Long (CEO - European Business at MTR)

Our proposition

Better Trains

  • We will introduce brand new trains
    • 750 spacious new state-of-the-art train carriages to cover all of the Windsor, Reading and London Suburban routes by December 2020
  • We will also introduce fully refurbished trains to the London-Portsmouth route to an “as new” standard
  • We will significantly increase capacity
    • our fleet will provide 30% more peak seats into Waterloo for our customers than today’s trains
    • including 52,000 more seats a day across the morning and evening peak times at London Waterloo by December 2020
  • Comfortable two plus two seating on all Portsmouth fast trains to London by December 2018
  • Average age of the entire fleet coming down by almost half by December 2020

Faster journeys

  • Mainline journey times reduced, including:
    • Weymouth-London journey times reduced by up to 14 minutes
    • Poole-London reduced by up to 14 minutes
    • Bournemouth-London reduced by up to 9 minutes
    • Southampton Central-London reduced by up to 8 minutes
    • Trips from Portsmouth will be quicker with an average five minutes cut from fast journeys and up to seven minutes from slower trips
  • Better connectivity on the South Coast,
    • Four trains an hour between London and Portsmouth,
    • Direct service along the South Coast connecting communities from Portsmouth to Weymouth
    • Second hourly semi-fast service between Portsmouth and Southampton
  • Sunday afternoon services will match weekdays on most routes for the first time from 2018 with almost 400 more services.
  • We will double the number of trains each hour to Reading and Windsor from two to four.
    • Reading will see two semi-fast and two stopping services every hour and Windsor will receive two extra semi-fast services via Hounslow.
  • We will improve late evening frequencies and later last trains across the network

Delivering a better travel experience

  • Providing staff from 06:00 to midnight on weekdays and Saturdays at stations within the London Travel Card area with automatic ticket gates
  • Free Wi-Fi coverage both on-board our mainland trains and at our stations, and up to five times greater bandwidth than today.
  • Live updates to passenger information screens on our mainland trains by December 2020
  • Charging points on all trains by December 2020
  • New customer app will make it the primary source of travel advice for our customers making it easier to use our trains, pointing customers towards less busy trains or less busy coaches within trains
  • At least 1,500 new car parking spaces across the network and 60 Electric Vehicle charging points at stations
  • Toilets on all mainland trains
  • We will bring in Delay Repay for the first time, making it simple and easy for our customers to claim for late trains with a fully automated process offered to those buying season and advance tickets directly from us on smartcards
  • Free infotainment on all mainland fleet

Simpler ticketing

  • Mobile phone barcode tickets will be available on the network for the first time, covering a wide range of journeys
  • We will implement our smartcard scheme across the franchise including pay-as-you-go functionality
  • We will offer flexible season tickets
  • Making rail travel more accessible for young people by introducing discounts for 16 to 18 year-olds for the first time
  • Making Advance Purchase fares available to/from more destinations
  • Easier to use ticket machines for customers

Investing in our people and the community

  • Development opportunities available across the business for staff to increase their skills
  • Employee representation at board level and staff champions to give employees a focal point to give their views and feedback
  • We plan to introduce the biggest rail operator apprenticeship scheme in Britain – we will launch our apprenticeship programme from franchise start on a wide range of courses
  • Wider roll out of smart devices for all customer facing staff
  • Paying all our employees at least the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage
  • Installing new gatelines at a number of stations to reduce ticketless travel and increasing the operating hours at a number of locations
  • Running schemes with the Prince’s Trust supporting disadvantaged young people on the South Western network
  • £2.6m annual fund for community projects across the franchise to be launched from April 2020
  • Investing in staff accommodation at various locations
  • Staff app introduced to give employees up to the minute information on the network and the goings on around the business.
  • Seeking to achieve Investors in People Gold status by 2022 (like other FirstGroup rail companies)
  • Creating a diverse workforce throughout the business
  • Opportunities to develop within FirstGroup and MTR
  • An array of benefits available to staff including:
    • Discounts at a large range of high street and online retailers
    • Buy as you earn and save as you earn options
    • Discounted travel on FirstGroup’s other bus and rail companies


Who are FirstGroup/MTR?

FirstGroup is a leading transport operator in the UK and North America. Within the rail industry we are known for running Great Western Railway (GWR), TransPennine Express (TPE) and Hull Trains, the later 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. Both our organisations are passionate about our people, with employee engagement scores above the UK norm. FirstGroup have been accredited by Investors in People in all their rail companies, with GWR and TPE achieving Gold status, demonstrating our commitment to our employees.

When does the new franchise start?

The new franchise starts on 20 August 2017

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 and a consistent approach between Stagecoach and ourselves. We will be looking to minimise disruption as much as for customers and employees when at franchise start and over the August bank holiday weekend.

What is happening to our uniform?

Front line employees will be supplied with updated accessories reflecting the new brand on the start date of the new franchise. We'll then run a consultation for employees to give your views on what you would like your uniform to be. This initiative has been successful when run previously in GWR, with employees happier with their resulting uniform.

Will my job change?

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.

What is happening to the rolling stock?

We're excited to improve the fleet for customers and our employees. We'll be introducing 90 new trains on Reading, Windsor and London routes by December 2020. As well as this, our mainland fleet will be refreshed and will have free, more reliable Wi-Fi, at-seat charging points and free infotainment as well as real time travel and connection information screens.

Will there be a new brand?

We're just adding the final touches to the new brand, getting it all finalised then we'll be ready to reveal to employees and our customers. There are some images and logos flying around the internet at the moment. Unfortunately, we can take credit for none of these however good some of them are. Keep an eye on our official channels for any brand announcements.

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. There'll be development opportunities across the business available for those who want it. We'll also introduce an innovative approach to learning, introducing a Learning Management System. This system will supplement the training you receive in the classroom and on demand, giving you course content whenever you want it.

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 improvements are you making to the on board customer experience?

We'll be introducing new trains and refurbishing the current fleet to make to on board experience better. This includes free on board Wi-Fi, at seat charging points and improved toilets. We'll also on board infotainment on all mainland routes.

What improvement are going to be made at stations?

We're making improvements across the network including installing Wi-Fi at all stations, refurbished waiting rooms and improving accessibility. In addition, we'll be refurbishing Southampton Central station for staff and the community that is served. We'll also be giving passengers at stations live information on seating availability, letting passengers know where best to stand on the platform to board emptier carriages.

What is happening to the Island Line?

The Island Line is a unique part of our railway, albeit one which is sorely in need of modernisation. We will work with Islanders and their local representatives to develop a viable future for the line and put it on a sustainable footing. One of the first things we want to do when preparing to take over the franchise is discuss our proposals with stakeholders, starting this year– we will then take our proposals to the DfT early next year

What happens to my pension?

As far as the main Railway Pension Scheme for SWT and Island Line are concerned, pensions will transfer over to FirstGroup and MTR and we aim to keep all pension details the same. We won’t be able to give specific answers to questions people may have until we review every pension but be assured we will try to keep things as they are.

Will my contract/salary be the same?

Employees of South West Trains will automatically become employees of the new franchise at the point of transfer. Employees carry with them their continuous service, and will continue to enjoy the same terms and conditions of employment with us.

What employee 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.

Will head office stay at Friar's Bridge Court?

We're hoping to keep HQ at Friar's Bridge Court. Whatever happens, we will have an HQ office close to Waterloo

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 Privelege 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.

Contact Us

If you have any suggestions for further FAQs, please get in contact at