by Phil Marsh

National Express retains Essex Thameside (c2c) franchise

Published: 29th June 2014

Ticketing, punctuality and performance revolution promised in new franchise deal

The former London, Tilbury and Southend line, known for years as The Misery Line, serves 26 stations running between Fenchurch Street in East London and the Essex Riviera to Shoeburyness, Southend and Tilbury via Barking and Basildon.

The line was known for poor punctuality until a new fleet of trains, the Class 357 was introduced in the late 1990s. These brought an end to the old slam-door trains but brought many temporary speed restrictions onto the line as track maintenance had to be changed with the introduction of the new trains. Once this had been sorted out, the predominantly commuter line flourished and was transformed into the best performing franchise in the UK.

Natex remain in the UK rail business

The franchise has been operated by National Express (NATEX) under the branding of c2c (Coast to City) and it is the incumbent operator that has won the new franchise. This was a very important win for NATEX as this was their last remaining rail franchise when once, they operated six and were the largest train operator in the UK. They handed back the East Coast Main Line Franchise in 2009 after their bid was proved to be too financially ambitious and many called for them to be stripped of their remaining rail interests.

c2c has consistently delivered amongst the best franchised rail performance in the UK rail industry, holding the UK records for annual punctuality (97.5%) and 4-weekly punctuality (98.8%).

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond announced the Department for Transport (DfT)’s decision and many promises have been made. A new fleet of trains will be provided providing tens of thousands more seats to the crowded route by the end of 2019. The deal runs for 15 years and commits NATEX spending around £160 million on upgrading the operation.

New trains and free wi-fi

These include 17 brand new trains providing almost 4,800 extra seats daily by the end of the contract and free wi-fi at stations and on trains. The franchise fleet will increase by 68 carriages to 364 carriages. Refunds will be made automatically when trains are delayed so long as the ticket holders have used the promised smart ticketing system.

More than £30 million will be spent improving stations, £1.7 million at Fenchurch Street and Barking another £5.3 million. This project will offer step-free access at all stations plus over 200 new car parking spaces and £457,000 invested in better cycling facilities and accessibility at stations.

No more late train or refund excuses…

C2C has said that it will improve on the already very good performance record by pledging to run more than 90% of services to their destination within 1 minute of the timetable by December 2018.

C2C will operate an extra 438 services into and out of London every week from December 2015 bringing an increase of 20% trains on a weekdays and weekends. This will no doubt further boost passenger levels which have increased by 42%, from around 26 million to 37 million passengers a year in the last 14 years.

The new operation will offer what they call a revolutionary Personal Performance Promise. This will give automatic compensation for delays over 2 minutes for registered users. So presumably there can be no more blaming being late on the trains! This links into the guarantee that passengers will have the right to be sold the cheapest ticket and that every station will be staffed while trains are running.

There will be a ticketing revolution with new smartcards, flexible season tickets, carnets, new discounted advanced fares available which will also help to keep trains full. There will be 20 trains per hour in the busiest periods between Fenchurch Street, Barking, West Ham and Limehouse.

A new timetable will be introduced expanding the c2c operation with a quarter of weekend trains calling at Stratford for the Olympic Park and the Westfield shopping centre and running to Liverpool Street offering new connections.

They said; Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said:

This deal is all about putting passengers at the heart of our railways. Brand new trains, thousands more seats and millions of pounds invested in stations will mean significantly improved journeys for those passengers who use these services every day.

The rigorous new processes we have put in place means passengers can have every confidence we have got the right bid for the franchise. The operator is ready to deliver and build on the high standards that customers have rightly come to expect from these vital services.

Dean Finch, National Express Group Chief Executive, said:

"I am delighted that we will continue to serve the people of East London and South Essex for another 15 years. National Express is very proud of our record on c2c, transforming it from the 'Misery Line' into consistently the best performing railway in the country.

"We have listened to our customers and local stakeholders and we have challenged ourselves to be at the forefront of innovation. We have identified where to invest to enable c2c to be truly tailored to meet customers' needs and to pioneer new levels of service not seen in UK rail.

"We believe our ambitious plans will transform the franchise again. Our ambition is for c2c to stay at the forefront of reliability and punctuality but also set new standards for customer service.

The new franchise will run from November 9 this year until November 2029.

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