I discovered last week that Govia have updated their website with a lot more detail about their plans for the Thameslink Southern Great Northern franchise. They take over the franchise on 13th September – so we have nine weeks left of First Capital Connect before the changeover. Govia are known for not stamping their name all over the companies they own, and so they’ve chosen to use relatively simple brand names for the new franchise. These are:
- Great Northern
- Gatwick Express
Here in Cambridge, we can expect our trains to be branded “Great Northern” from September, but not a lot else will change immediately. Govia have very sensibly chosen not to try and make any major changes in the first year of the franchise, and a lot of the enabling work for future changes will still be in progress. They are planning to shake the fares up a bit, introducing cheaper advance-purchase fares, so there’s a possibility that they might appear in the first year.
One year on – September 2015 – they intend to have franchise-wide smart ticketing. This means an ITSO-type smartcard which can be loaded with pre-purchased tickets rather than having to use paper tickets. For people like me who buy daily or weekly tickets depending on what they’re doing that week, this’ll be a big step forward – buy your ticket from your computer or phone before leaving the house, then just go straight to the ticket gates, no need to queue for a machine. ITSO will not (initially) work like the Oyster PAYG system, though they hint that they would like to try and make that happen!
For my London friends, you will be pleased to know that they plan to extend the Oyster PAYG system well beyond Greater London, so that you can use Oyster to pay for your train journey to Gatwick or Luton Airports and to stations as far north as Welwyn Garden City.
In the spring of 2016 we will start to see a bigger change, as services will switch to being operated by different types of train. The fast Cambridge trains and the King’s Lynn trains will be operated by Class 377 sets that will be transferred from Southern. These are relatively new trains (built in batches from 2003-present) whereas the existing Class 365s date from the mid-1990s. The 377s are very similar to the 379s being operated by Abellio Greater Anglia on services to Liverpool Street – they have air conditioning and may well have power sockets and wifi. Those of us who use the slower trains are actually getting brand new trains during 2016 – the Siemens-built Class 700s will be introduced, replacing the existing 1980s-built stock. However, these are relatively spartan inside as they’re designed to handle massive numbers of passengers when passing through central London, so we’ll see how comfortable they are!
Once May 2017 comes around, the King’s Lynn services will become half-hourly. Finally, in May 2018, Cambridge will get through services on the Thameslink route – so the stopping trains will serve St Pancras rather than King’s Cross – and trains will run through to Gatwick and Brighton. The full service won’t be implemented until December 2018, giving time for the new systems to bed in. Govia promise “a range of stopping patterns” on the four trains an hour to serve Cambridge – so there’s a good chance of getting additional trains serving the smaller stations on the Cambridge-Hitchin line. Royston will almost certainly benefit from having another fastish train to London and Cambridge.