Rail journeys in the North East will undergo the biggest transformation in decades, thanks to an unprecedented package of improvements being delivered in new franchise deals, the government announced.
More than 500 brand-new carriages, the removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacer trains, room for 40,000 extra passengers at the busiest times, and more than 2,000 extra services a week will be delivered across the North.
The government has announced it intends to award the Northern franchise to Arriva Rail North Limited, and the TransPennine Express franchise to First Trans Pennine Express Limited.
Together they will oversee a massive £1.2 billion boost to rail services with brand-new modern trains, more seats, more services and a host of improvements to deliver a modern, 21st century passenger experience – as well as playing a vital role in bringing the Northern Powerhouse to life, rebalancing the economy, creating jobs, opportunity and growth, and providing significantly better journeys across the region.
As part of the government’s commitment to ensure local passengers are at the heart of the rail network and devolve power to those that know their economies and customers best, the franchises will be jointly managed from Leeds by the Department for Transport and Rail North Limited – which represents 29 local authorities across the North.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We promised passengers in the north east a world class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality – and I’m delighted that we have found two operators that will deliver exactly that.
“We are committed to closing the economic gap between North and South. This deal, and the joint management of the franchises, will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life.
“In 2004, the last time these contracts were awarded, the government did not plan for growth – today we’ve put that right.”
Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities said: “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.”
Arriva Rail North Limited will run the Northern franchise – which is the second largest in the UK and operates regional and commuter services across the region – from April 2016 until March 2025.
The operator will oversee the complete removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacers by the end of 2019, introduce more than 2,000 extra services each week, and will invest £400m in 281 brand new air-conditioned carriages to be rolled out across the north – more than double the minimum required in the government’s Invitation to Tender.
In the North East, specific improvements on the Northern network include:
• More services providing space for nearly 30% more passengers into Newcastle during the morning rush hour.
• A new high-quality ‘Northern Connect’ service, meaning new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys and stations staffed daily with catering services and free Wi-Fi at each one. As well as serving Newcastle, this network will also serve other destinations including Middlesbrough, Hexham and MetroCentre.
• Extra services to MetroCentre from Sunderland and Morpeth, Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle, and between Bishop Auckland and Middlesbrough via Darlington.
• More services between Middlesbrough and Newcastle, also benefiting Stockton; more evening services between Darlington and Middlesbrough; and extra services between Middlesbrough and Whitby.
• Improved ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers.
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 125mph services across the network, as well as introducing in the North East:
• Brand new, state of the art trains, providing four times the number of seats into Newcastle during the morning rush hour.
• More services from Newcastle to York, Leeds and Manchester.
• A new service from Newcastle to Edinburgh via Morpeth.
• Extra direct services from Middlesbrough to Leeds, Manchester and Manchester Airport on longer, new-build trains.
• New cycling facilities and parcel collection services at Middlesbrough station.
• Discounted advance fares for 16- to 18-year-olds and jobseekers.
The deal will also mean significant returns to government and better value for the taxpayer.
The government will receive £400m in premiums from First Trans Pennine Express Limited over the life of the franchise; previously, the franchise was subsidised by the government.
The amount of annual subsidy the government pays for the Northern franchise will be reduced by £140m by the end of the nine-year contract.
Following the announcement, and in accordance with usual procurement practice, there will be a standstill period of 10 days before the department will be in a position to enter into, and complete, the formal contractual documentation and make the award to Arriva Rail North Limited and First Trans Pennine Express Limited.