by Phil Marsh

Latest rail franchise shortlists announced

Published: 20th August 2014

Bidders for Northern and TransPennine Express operations revealed

The Department for Transport (DfT) and Railways Minister Claire Perry MP have announced the three companies that have been shortlisted to run the Northern franchise and that another three companies are being invited to compete for the TransPennine Express franchise.

The three companies invited to develop their plans for the TransPennine Express franchise have passed the pre-qualification stage in the franchise process. Only then if the DfT is satisfied with their plans, will they then receive an invitation to tender from them in December.

Those invited to tender will have until April 2015 to submit their bid with the new operator will be announced in October 2015 starting operations in February 2016.

The three companies will have to show how they will make the best use of the government’s £1 billion investment programme for the rail network in the north of England. This is aimed at offering faster and more reliable journeys with more seats and better trains providing improved connections for passengers across the region.

Will the franchises be run by UK companies?

The shortlisted bidders to run the Northern franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd owned by Dutch Railways, Arriva Rail North Limited, owned by Deutsche Bahn in Germany and Govia Northern Limited part of French Railways. Abellio are the existing operators in partnership with Serco and have run the services for 10 years.

Abellio operate the Greater Anglia Franchise while Govia runs the Southeastern, Southern and London Midland franchises while. Arriva operates six UK train companies Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Grand Central, Tyne and Wear Metro and the joint venture, London Overground (LOROL).

The TransPennine Express franchise shortlisted companies are First Trans Pennine Express Limited who currently run these services, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited owned by French Railways and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited, a UK company.

Stagecoach operate SouthWest Trains, East Midlands Trains and have a 49% share of Virgin Trains. First Group is arguably the UK's largest rail operator with four passenger franchises, First TransPennine Express, First Capital Connect, First Great Western, First ScotRail and the open access operator, First Hull Trains. First was awarded the West Coast main Line franchise two years ago but Virgin retained the operation due to DfT errors in the award.

They said:

Rail Minister Claire Perry said: The north is undergoing a real rail renaissance, and we will be asking these companies to come up with innovative and ambitious proposals that will ensure a truly world-class rail network for the region.

Building a railway that is fit for the 21st century is a vital part of our long term economic plan, connecting businesses and communities, generating jobs and boosting growth, and we need strong private sector partners to help us achieve this ambition.

The new operator will also be expected to work closely with Rail North, which represents the region’s local authorities, to ensure local rail users will have more influence in how their train services are run.

Sir Richard Leese, for Rail North, said: The companies on the shortlists demonstrate the interest there is in meeting Rail North’s desire to see the railway acting as an economic driver in the north of England. We look forward to working with the bidders to deliver strong franchises for passengers, which reflect the aims and objectives of our long term rail strategy and the predicted growth in patronage.

Arriva Chief Executive David Martin, said: “We have an excellent track record in the UK’s rail market and submitted a strong expression of interest for the Northern franchise. We are delighted to be invited to tender for the concession and will be creating an innovative, winning bid which draws on our experience in the UK and across mainland Europe.

What is the billion pounds being spent on?

The Northern Hub project takes care of £600 million while electrification of routes in the north-west and on the Trans-Pennine routes makes up the rest.

The short-listed bidders will have to show how they will make best use of these projects in increasing capacity in order to relieve over-crowding and how to meet rising passenger demand. They will also need to offer faster and more frequent services using upgraded rolling stock and importantly, proposals to replace the dreaded 1980s ‘Pacer’ trains used on the Northern franchise.

This alone should assist hugely in the other aim of improving customer service and passenger satisfaction as they are noisy and offer an uncomfortable ride. But it must be remembered that they probably saved many lines from closure in the 1980s being cheap to run based on a Leyland bus design adapted for rail use.

The DfT says that the new franchises “will lay the foundations for a transformation of rail travel in the north, including the Chancellor’s plans for a high-speed network linking some of the region’s biggest cities”.

Train numbers

The two franchises carried over 110 million passengers last year on every type of route, busy commuter routes serving Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle plus fast long-distance inter-urban services linking the west and east coast areas. TPE has recently introduced 110mph electric services serving Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The public consultation into the future of rail services in the north closed on August 18 and this will be used to develop the franchise specifications.

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