New train franchises for the north of England were launched today.
Representatives from Rail North and the two train operating companies, Arriva Rail North Ltd and First Group, were joined by Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, at Manchester’s Piccadilly Station.
Under the devolution agreement, the two new franchises will be co-managed by the Department for Transport and Rail North Ltd, which brings together representatives from 29 local transport authorities from across the region through the Rail North Partnership.
Both operators will provide state-of-the-art trains, with the addition of more than 500 new carriages.
In doing so, Northern will remove the out-dated Pacer trains by 2019 and by the same year, the entire TransPennine fleet will be brought up to Intercity standards.
Mr Jones said: “Arriva Rail North and First TransPennine Express have ambitious plans to deliver a world class rail service that will make a real difference to customers, bringing faster and more frequent services and connecting up northern cities and towns.”
Over the next four years, the franchises will bring more than 140 new trains onto the network, providing a much-needed increase in service frequency at off-peak times.
Facilities at more than 400 stations across the north will also be improved.
Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities, said: “Today marks the start of better rail services for the North and of much greater local control over the development of these services.
“Passengers and businesses told us that they wanted less crowded trains and faster and more frequent services that start earlier and finish later, and more opportunities to travel on Sundays.
“The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises will exceed these requirements.
“The unpopular Pacer railbuses will be consigned to the scrapheap by October 2019 and more than 500 brand new carriages will be brought into service together with a substantial investment in station improvements and a real focus on involving local communities in the railway.
“These new franchises tangibly demonstrate the real benefit of devolution of power to the north.
“Rail North Ltd played a key role in specifying tender requirements and evaluating bids leading to the award of the franchises.”
First Group has taken on the new TransPennine Express franchise.
When this was announced a few months ago, the South East Northumberland Rail Users Group (SENRUG) spoke of its delight that Morpeth will gain a new hourly direct service both to Edinburgh and also to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool from 2019.
The new Northern Rail franchise goes to Arriva, which will be introducing an evening and Sunday service on the Cramlington and Morpeth line from 2017.
The franchise agreement also requires Arriva to work constructively with Northumberland County Council to help secure the re-introduction of passenger services to Ashington.
SENRUG chairman Dennis Fancett said at the time: “We had very intensive discussions with First Group about the market for a semi fast service at Morpeth and are delighted our points have been taken on board, and we also welcome the extra Northern Rail services.
“We will continue to lobby for Cramlington to be included in the TransPennine Express route and we want our Arriva buses to serve the rail stations at both Morpeth and Cramlington.
“We know that bus and rail operate as completely separate business units, but that’s no excuse where you can’t get to the station by bus.
“The entire public transport sector would grow if services were integrated.”