Waterloo Revamp to Avoid London Bridge Chaos, Stagecoach Says

  • Work on $1 billion station upgrade starts in earnest next year
  • Train operator also faces challenge of new trains, HS2 bid

Commuters and rail travelers walk beneath the departures board at Waterloo train station in London.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

An upgrade of London Waterloo train station aimed at boosting peak-time capacity 30 percent will avoid a repeat of the chaos that’s disrupted millions of journeys into the revamped London Bridge terminus over the past year, its main train operator pledged.

The 800 million-pound ($1 billion) renovation at Waterloo, which will open four platforms mothballed since Channel Tunnel express trains switched to St. Pancras station and extend four more starting in August, should deliver a service boost matching the London Bridge project but without the upheaval, Stagecoach Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Martin Griffiths said Wednesday.

“The complexity will be a lot less, and it will cost a lot less,” Griffiths said in a phone interview. Waterloo is Britain’s busiest railway station and one of Europe’s most crowded, with 100 million annual passengers, or 180 million including London subway lines and the Waterloo East offshoot.

The radical remodeling of London Bridge station, involving extra platforms and a new concourse and linked to construction of the Shard skyscraper, has resulted in police deployments to hold back commuters from packed platforms. The capacity crunch has been exacerbated by labor walkouts and absenteeism among staff at Go-Ahead Group Plc’s Southern franchise, the station’s main train operator.

Franchise Bid

Perth, Scotland-based Stagecoach has run South West Trains, which serves Waterloo, since the U.K. rail network was privatized in the mid-1990s. The company is bidding to retain the business in a competition with FirstGroup Plc, which is allied with Hong Kong subway operator MTR Corp. The route network reaches as far as Devon, England, but is focused on London’s “stockbroker belt” southwest of the city.

The Waterloo upgrade is one of a number of challenges facing Stagecoach across its rail franchises.

Demand is subdued as the low oil price encourages people to drive, Griffiths said, while the East Coast route linking London with Edinburgh, which Stagecoach recently took over in partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail, carries the risk of teething issues with the 2018 introduction of one of Britain’s biggest fleet of new high speed trains in four decades.

Stagecoach must also decide soon on whether to bid for the next London-Glasgow West Coast franchise, which will also include the first few years of running the 57 billion-pound High Speed 2 line. Adding HS2 will increase the operational risk of a business the company has run with Virgin since 1998, Jefferies International analyst Joe Spooner has said.

Shares of Stagecoach were trading 2 percent higher at 209.9 pence as of 11:28 a.m. in London after the company reported earnings for the first half ended Oct. 29. While profit at its rail business fell 53 percent, the decline was less than expected, Spooner said in a note.

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