TRAIN times between Andover and London Waterloo are set to be slashed by nearly 20 per cent after the Government handed the rail franchise to a different operator.

The Department for Transport said this week the South Western Railway franchise will change hands, from Stagecoach to FirstGroup and Chinese company MTR, from August.

It is predicted journey times from Andover to Waterloo will be cut by about 11 to 13 minutes by late 2018, putting the capital within an hour’s reach, seen as a massive boost to both passengers and businesses in the town.

The move will also lead to the addition of 750 new train carriages that will be added to Windsor, Reading and London suburban routes by 2020.

This also includes plans to introduce 400 extra trains on Sundays across the whole network, and in the same time period, there will be 52,000 more peak seats added to trains at London Waterloo.

The announcement was praised by North West Hampshire’s MP Kit Malthouse, who said: “With 90 new trains we’re going to see more space for passengers on the Reading, Windsor and London routes through Grateley, Andover, Whitchurch and Overton adding 22,000 extra seats into London Waterloo in the morning peak and 30,000 extra seats each out of Waterloo during the evening peak.

“Combined with plans to make charging points accessible from every seat and refurbished train interiors, I think this represents a really good deal for my constituents and shows the Government means business on expanding capacity.”

Journey times will be cut because trains will spend less time waiting at signals, with ‘dwell time’ at platforms also set to be reduced.

When the Advertiser asked if this meant that passengers would have less time to get on, a spokesperson for FirstGroup said that while the amount of time that was spent on the platform would be reduced, the amount of time for embarkation would not decrease.

Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, said: “This is great news for rail passengers. We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century.”

Stagecoach, the current operator of the franchise, said it was “disappointed” its bid had failed.

Test Valley Borough Council planning policy and transport portfolio holder, Councillor Martin Hatley, said: “We are pleased that residents and commuters are set to benefit from better trains, more seats and quicker journey times.”