Michael Gove has received the following email from Andy Mellors, Managing Director of South Western Railway, regarding the rail services between Reading and Ascot (via Camberley and Ascot) and London Waterloo:
‘As one of our key stakeholders, we are writing to inform you of some upcoming changes to our services between Reading, Aldershot (via Camberley and Ascot) and London Waterloo.
At South Western Railway, we are committed to increasing capacity on this busy network, with plans to deliver 52,000 extra seats into Waterloo across the morning and evening peaks by December 2020. Some of this additional capacity has already been delivered, with many longer trains introduced on some of our busiest routes since last December and the roll-out of the new Class 707 fleet, which has released train units to be cascaded onto other services. However on routes where trains are already running at the maximum number of carriages that platforms can accommodate, including the majority of Reading, Aldershot (via Camberley and Ascot) and London Waterloo line services; the only option is to provide more capacity by reconfiguring the available space on board.
Before letting our franchise, the Department for Transport held a consultation to ask passengers and other stakeholders what they wanted, including a question on seating layouts and the balance between first and standard class seating. The responses showed overall support for removing first class seating, in order to provide additional standard class seats.
In light of this, the services between Reading and Ascot (via Camberley and Ascot) and London Waterloo will ultimately be served by a brand-new fleet of trains, which will be common across all of our suburban network. This £895million fleet is due to start to arrive in 2019 and many will come in fixed 10 carriages formations, creating additional valuable space. These trains will be standard class throughout, with wide aisles and doorways to help customers board with ease, as well as readily move through the train.
Having one consistent fleet will benefit not only the customer experience by offering toilets, air conditioning, WiFi and at-seat charging points throughout all trains; but will also drive better performance, with all trains having the same operational capabilities in terms of acceleration and braking.
As the new suburban fleet starts to enter service, first class would become unavailable on more and more trains, and so from the next timetable change, on 9th December 2018, all trains on the Reading, Aldershot (via Camberley and Ascot) and London Waterloo services will have their first class accommodation declassified. This requirement is also an obligation in our franchise agreement with the Department for Transport. Although I appreciate that this may be disappointing for customers who currently hold a first class ticket, we believe this is the fairest approach given the incoming new trains and our consequent increasing inability to consistently provide first class accommodation.
We are not alone in this capacity challenge and several other train operators have also taken the step to reduce or remove first class. On a congested network such as ours, difficult decisions often have to be made to maximise overall capacity.
Customers who hold a current first class season ticket that is valid on or beyond 9th December 2018, will receive a refund of the price differential between first and standard class; or they can apply for a full refund of the unused portion of their ticket should they no longer wish to travel with us. No administration fee will be charged.
The difference in fare between first and standard class will be back dated from 1st October 2018 for the remaining validity of the season ticket. They may continue to use first class accommodation, where available, until 8th December 2018, at no extra charge. If their season ticket is valid on an additional or alternative route, they may still use first class on those routes where it exists, in line with season ticket terms and conditions.’