Wandsworth commuters were rejoicing last night after Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin awarded a prestigious local rail franchise to South West Trains. The much-loved train operator, whose punctiliously reliable services have attracted worldwide acclamation, beat off stiff competition from rivals Southern, Southeastern, First Great Western and Arriva Wales to secure the coveted right to run the Southside Express for the next 20 years.
|The glamorous Southside Express on its first day of operation|
The busy circular service, operating every 20 minutes between Topshop and Waitrose at Southside shopping centre, will now be able to benefit from South West Trains' years of experience running trusted commuter services between Waterloo and Addlestone. Informed sources said SWT had won the franchise after promising that safety information would be displayed in all coaches - in English, Polish, Gujarati, Braille and Cuneiform.
"This is such an exciting day for Wandsworth," declared Aurelia Abercrombie-Postlethwaite, the borough's high-profile Integrated Transport Coordinator. "South West Trains will undoubtedly bring a commitment to excellence to this crucial service in the heart of the community. We all know they are the undisputed champion of customer care."
Last night officials spoke of far-reaching plans to extend the service well beyond Southside shopping centre to other parts of the borough. Respected Labour leader Ed Miliband also weighed into the debate, pledging: "If Labour wins the general election in May, I am very clear that we will consider examining a possible feasibility study into a potential extension of this key service that would otherwise be axed by the coalition."
Experts said an envisaged link to a new WandsworthEye HQ Interchange in Chapel Yard could be completed by 2035 - even before Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension.
|Artist's impression of the proposed WandsworthEye HQ Interchange|
However, fears rose last night that even South West Trains might struggle to cope with the vast logistical challenges of running the complex Southside Express franchise. Within minutes of the first train departing, a series of unforeseen issues caused delays around the entire 10-metre loop:
- A teddy bear dropped onto the track by five-year-old Stacey derailed the 08:45 service to Topshop, causing light casualties.
- Signal failure at Waitrose North meant anticlockwise services had to terminate at the flower stall.
- Engineering works between Uniqlo and WHSmith left passengers struggling onto Rail Replacement Buses with their heavy shopping.