Mark Hopwood has taken over as managing director of South Western Railway (SWR).
Jointly owned by FirstGroup (70 per cent) and MTR Corporation (30 per cent), SWR took over the South Western franchise from South West Trains on 20 August 2017. It is one of the busiest franchises in the country, with some 1,700 services each weekday operating urban, suburban, regional and long-distance routes between London Waterloo and south western England, including Bristol, Exeter and Portsmouth.
There is much for Mark to look forward to. A new fleet of Bombardier Class 701 Aventra trains will start to be introduced from mid-2020 on suburban lines, as well as refurbished Class 442 ‘Wessex Electric’ trains. Modernisation of the Island Line will also commence in the summer.
However, he also arrives to a background of industrial unrest, with the now-notorious guards dispute still causing disruption for passengers.
Still, with over 30 years’ experience of managing rail businesses and delivering improvements for passengers, Mark is confident that his plans can make a noticeable difference for passengers on South Western Railway.
“It’s my mission to drive through change and make a positive impact for South Western Railway passengers,” he said. “Frankly, our service has not been good enough in recent months and years.
“I also know that the recent strikes have had a very significant impact on our passengers and staff and I am determined to find a resolution.
“We will focus on changes that can make an immediate difference to the number of trains running on time.”
In addition to Mark joining the business, SWR has brought together performance, operations and customer experience functions under a new chief operating officer, MTR’s Mike Houghton.
Mike was key to turning around performance in his last job at Melbourne Trains in Australia and will help SWR focus on running more trains on time.
Mark Hopwood added: “We can’t achieve all this alone. Many of the problems we face are caused by the infrastructure, so I have agreed with Network Rail at the very highest levels that we will work hard together to address these issues.
“My previous experience tells me that a strong, collaborative relationship is key. I know that passengers don’t want to hear parts of the industry blaming each other for issues they just want to see fixed. So, my approach is that it might not be our fault, but it is still our problem.”
Certainly, Mark has the breadth of experience to make a difference. Starting out as a ticket office clerk at Reading station back in 1989, he rapidly moved up the ladder to operations and managing director positions more recently. He has worked for British Rail, Thames Trains, c2c, Gatwick Express and Silverlink.
Since 2008, he led the transformation of Great Western Railway (GWR), one of the largest train operating companies in the UK, to such good effect that it had the best performance improvement of any train operator across 2019. Unsurprisingly, he has been tasked with driving similar improvement for SWR.
As he took his post, Mark made five commitments to passengers:
- “We’ll increase the number of trains running on time, and address problems like trains running with fewer carriages than they’re supposed to and trains missing out stops to make up time. This will be a slow and steady improvement – I’m sorry to say there’s no silver bullet to solve these issues overnight, and I expect we’ll still have bad days like everyone else. But we have developed a robust ‘performance improvement plan’ to reduce the problems that cause delays and manage those we do have more effectively. I am confident you will see more trains running on time as a result.
- “We’ll introduce new and refurbished trains, that will allow us to bring in new and more reliable services, and to roll out more Wi-Fi, toilets on trains and other things passengers tell us they want.
- “We’ll be open and honest with you. Open about what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it, and honest about the problems we face. We’ll try and do this all in Plain English, cutting out the jargon and railway-speak.
- “We’ll empower and enable our staff to provide the help and advice you need and want. Our job is to get you where you need to be, at the time you need to be there, and our people already work extremely hard to try and do that. I’ll remove obstacles to them doing so.
- “We’ll be approachable and accountable. Tell us when there’s a problem and we’ll try and fix it and explain what we’re trying to do about it. Obviously, I can’t reply to each and every one of you. But I’ve got a team of over 5,000 who can, and I’ll report back to you regularly on progress against these promises so you can hold me to them.”
Now he just has to deliver on those promises.