South West Trains to hire drivers after pounds 90m order

South West Trains, the heavily criticised commuter railway, said yesterday it may have to start rehiring drivers after announcing a pounds 90m deal to buy 30 new trains from GEC Alsthom, writes Michael Harrison.

It was SWT's decision to axe 10 per cent of its drivers earlier this year that forced it to cancel hundreds of services a week and brought the threat of a pounds 1m fine from the rail franchising director.

But Brian Cox, chairman of SWT, said that when the new rolling stock began to arrive in two years' time the company possibly would need to take on more drivers. He said that might sound crazy after the crisis SWT had been plunged into but its parent company, Stagecoach, had a similar experience in the bus industry when it took over local operators, cutting staff and then increasing them.

The trains will be leased through another Stagecoach subsidiary, Porterbrook Leasing, and will enter service on the Reading-Waterloo line, replacing 30-year-old slam-door rolling stock.

The order, the biggest since the rail industry was privatised, will safeguard up to 1,600 jobs at GEC Alsthom's Metro-Cammell works in Birmingham. The order was over and above the commitments Stagecoach gave when it won the franchise last year and will be followed up by further improvements to stations and existing rolling stock for the 150,000 passengers that SWT carries each day.

Mr Cox said a "thick black line" had been drawn under SWT's well-publicised problems. Although SWT believed the regulatory regime had sufficient teeth, it would work with whatever extra demands Labour chose to impose on the privatised train operators.

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