New rail franchise deals bring northern train improvement promise

Northern Rail train Image copyright El Pollock/Geograph
Image caption New contracts have been awarded to train operators for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises

Widespread improvements to trains in the north of England and Scotland have been promised with the announcement of new contracts for two rail franchises.

The Northern Rail franchise is being awarded to Arriva Rail North Ltd, while TransPennine Express is going to First Trans Pennine Express Ltd.

The Department for Transport said the deals would see the introduction of 500 new carriages.

The outdated and unpopular Pacer trains would also be phased out.

Trains would have room for 40,000 extra passengers at the busiest times, and more than 2,000 extra services a week would be delivered, the DfT said.

The two train operators will oversee £1.2bn of investment into the railways, according to the announcement.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the plans would help deliver a "world class rail service" as part of the government's Northern Powerhouse project.

"As a one nation government we are committed to closing the economic gap between north and south," he said.

"This deal, and the joint management of the franchises, will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life."

Image copyright Roger Templeman/Geograph
Image caption Outdated and unpopular Pacer trains, introduced in the 1980s, will be phased out as part of the new contracts

Other promises in the announcement include:

  • Free wi-fi on TransPennine Express services and stations by July 2018, and on Northern Rail services and 36 stations by December 2019
  • £55m of investment to improve stations
  • A new direct Liverpool to Glasgow service from December 2018
  • Additional services from Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh from December 2017
  • Doubling the number of Manchester to Newcastle services, and running more daily services to Hull from Manchester and Leeds, both from December 2017

Mr McLoughlin added: "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.

"Coupled with our commitment to push ahead with electrifying the vital TransPennine route, [they] will help the region realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st Century transport system."

This morning the Department for Transport published the details of new franchises for Northern and TransPennine rail services.

David Sidebottom, a director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, welcomed the announcement, but stressed that several issues, including staffing, must be addressed.

He said: "Passengers will be pleased to hear that they are a step closer to new franchises and all the certainty that brings.

"They will especially welcome the confirmation of new trains, additional services and increased capacity responding to some of the most important priorities for improvement.

"Alongside this it is critical that issues with punctuality, information provision and staffing are addressed."

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