Award of northern franchises to stimulate rail investment

New rail franchises in north of England will be managed from Leeds and stimulate £1.2bn investment in the regional network and services

Franchises for the Northern Rail and the TransPenine Express services are set to be awarded to train operators Arriva and First Group it was revealed this week. Arriva Rail North Limited will run the Northern franchise for nine years from April 2016 until March 2025. The operator will oversee the complete removal of the aged Pacer trains by the end of 2019, introduce more than 2,000 extra services each week, and will invest £400 million in 281 brand new air-conditioned carriages. This is more than double the minimum required in the government’s invitation to tender.

"In 2004, the last time these contracts were awarded, the government did not plan for growth – today we’ve put that right," 

Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Secretary

First Trans Pennine Express Limited will operate services on the TransPennine Express franchise, which runs intercity services across the north-east and into Scotland, from April 2016 until March 2023. They will bring in 220 new carriages, equivalent to 44 trains, providing fast 125 mph services across the network, as well as introducing brand new, state of the art trains, providing 4 times the number of seats into Newcastle during the morning rush hour.

"In 2004, the last time these contracts were awarded, the government did not plan for growth – today we’ve put that right," said Patrick McLoughlin,Transport Secretary as he made the announcement. "Arriva Rail North Limited and First Trans Pennine Express Limited went far beyond our requirements with exciting, ambitious plans that will make a real difference to customers, and – coupled with our commitment to push ahead with electrifying the vital TransPennine route – will help the region realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st century transport system."

The deal will also mean reduction in the subsidies previously paid by government to operators and for the TransPennine route. First will pay premuims worth £400M over the life of the franchise. The amount of annual subsidy the government pays for the Northern franchise will be reduced by £140 million by the end of the 9-year contract.

Management of the franchises will be undertaken from Leeds by a partnership between the Department for Transport and Rail North. "Passengers were clear that they wanted to see a transformation including a lot more newer, better, trains running more regularly with a step change in services provided off-peak and on Sundays. They also wanted improvements to stations and changes to make ticketing easier - and thanks to all the partnership work by Rail North and the Department for Transport, that’s exactly what we are able to announce today," said Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities. "This is another move towards crucial devolution for the north. Rail North will work very closely with Transport for the North to drive forward economic growth by developing visionary proposals to deliver radically improved connectivity across the north,"

Both operators will provide free Wi-Fi – on TransPennine Express services and stations by July 2018, and on all Northern services and 36 stations by December 2019. The operators will also be expected to meet challenging targets to improve customer satisfaction and reduce cancellations, and to introduce automatic delay repay compensation for passengers who buy season and advance-purchase tickets online. They will also make £55 million of much-needed investment in nothern stations.

During the franchises, the government and Network Rail will also move ahead with electrification of the TransPennine line to deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity. Network Rail is currently developing a detailed plan for the work which, when finished, will provide a fully electrified route between Liverpool and Newcastle. The work is expected to be completed in 2022. The operators will also support the roll out of Oyster-style smart ticketing on public transport across the north, backed by £150 million of government funding.

An interractive map showing routes and improvements can be viewed here

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