Around 14% of all UK rail journeys are made on the current South Western network, with 1700 trains per day serving more than 200 stations in London, Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire Surrey, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight.
Richard has long campaigned for the improvement of rail services to Weymouth, which suffer from fewer, slower and shorter trains due to a reduction in electrification beyond Bournemouth. Current plans under review by South West trains include a new, fast service to London Waterloo, via Dorchester West, Yeovil Junction and Salisbury, with no other stops. South West trains believes that with some infrastructure work this plan would be feasible. On December 15, 2015, Richard led a delegration including other local MPs, Councillors and the LEP to a meeting with the Undersecretary of State for Transport, Claire Perry. On the same afternoon he called a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the proposals and the benefits they would bring to towns all the way up the line.
In January 2016, the Minister asked Network Rail to investigate possible costs for the plan.
Meanwhile, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Local Councils and MPs along the route all submitted proposals to the DfT's South West Franchise public consultation, which closed on February 9, 2016.
Two companies; the incumbent Stagecoach South West Ltd and FirstGroup’s First South Western Trains Ltd have been shortlisted to bid for the next South Western passenger franchise and the next franchise would start when Stagecoach’s current contract ends in June 2017.
The length of the new franchise is still to be determined.