Published: 11th November 2014
It was known for years as the misery line and other more unrepeatable names but the former London, Tilbury and Southend (LT&S) line has started another phase in its history with the start of a new franchise. The franchise serves Fenchurch Street and the ‘Essex Riviera’ towns of Southend and Shoeburyness and has one of the most intensive main line service patterns in the UK.
In reality, it is more of the same as the franchise was retained by National Express, but with tougher performance targets. The new deal also promises to use technology to improve passenger information as well as introducing a fleet of new trains in due course.
The incumbent operator, c2c (City to Coast) is a National Express company and was their only UK rail franchise seemingly hanging by a thread when they handed back the East Coast Main Line franchise six years ago. But good performance and innovation meant they retained the franchise and will operate it until 2029 using an additional fleet of 17 newly built trains. They will also offer free wi-fi on trains and at stations plus special discounted fares and innovative new ways to purchase tickets.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
Passengers deserve the best from our railways, and they will see the biggest ever package of benefits from this franchise, with new and improved trains and extra services. The technology improvements that I have seen today will also make planning journeys and buying tickets easier than before. It is great to see c2c really thinking about what their passengers need.
The new franchise will see passenger benefits costing around £160 million including the new trains plus more services giving over 25,000 extra seats in the morning peak plus free wi-fi at stations and on trains. Using technology, passengers with smart tickets will automatically receive refunds if their train is delayed. Season ticket holders can also use a new Oyster-style c2c Smart card, which will eventually be extended to cover rail travel in London and south east.
Today we are launching the biggest single package of improvements for passengers ever seen on c2c. Our main focus in this new franchise is to improve the experience for passengers when they are using c2c. We’re aiming to excel in this area, and develop our reputation as a high-quality service as well as a punctual and reliable train operator.
c2c has been operated by National Express since 2000, and is in the top 10 franchises for overall passenger satisfaction and will now continue to operate the route until 2029.
The deal will mean the total number of vehicles serving the franchise will increase to 364 by 2024. The current fleet will be fitted with wi-fi technology and will also be refurbished as it is half way through its design life. Away from the trains, a station improvement plan costing over £30 million will swing into action which will bring step-free access at all stations and more car park spaces and cycle facilities.
c2c already regularly tops the performance tables but have agreed to aim higher with the goal of over 90% of trains reaching their destination within 1 minute in four years.
Season ticket holders will from 2016, be able to use flexible season tickets if they travel outside peak hours and all passengers will be looking forward to real-time information on how crowded the next train is while they are waiting on the platform.
c2c has begun consultation to see how congestion can be eased and has published a proposed timetable to take effect in December 2015. The proposal is to run 16% more services in the morning peak with every train calling at Barking, West Ham and Limehouse. Every station would see four trains per hour minimum at peak times with faster off-peak journey times to and from London.
Earlier first and later last services are proposed are as new weekend services serving Stratford and Liverpool Street plus a new service from Rainham and Purfleet to central London on Sundays.
c2c Managing Director Julian Drury said: “We are proposing these timetable changes to address two of the biggest issues for our passengers: crowding, and their changing travel patterns that require frequent links to the main interchange stations. We’ll support this with other improvements to passengers’ journeys, such as investment in stations, new wifi and smartcards, and compensation in future for trains delayed for as little as two minutes.
“This is a consultation, so we really do want passengers to look at the proposals for their station and to tell us what they think.”
Detailed information concerning individual stations can be found at c2crail.co.uk/consult_tt and the consultation ends on 15 January 2015.