Published: 3rd June 2015
The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced the shortlisted bidders for the Greater Anglia franchise and all three have at some stage operated the trains in East Anglia. The three are: Abellio East Anglia Limited (a joint venture between Abellio and Stagecoach), First East Anglia Limited and National Express East Anglia Trains Limited who will each work with the DfT to develop their proposals before receiving the official invitation to tender in August.
They will be asked to demonstrate how they will improve the railways and especially how they would achieve reduced journey times and more reliable services on the Norwich to Liverpool Street main line while providing better connections with a headline time of 90 minutes travel time between these key locations.
Much has been made of the Norwich in 90 project and this will have featured in the public consultation which took place between December 2014 and March this year. This invited views from passengers and pressure groups about what the train service in the Anglia region should look like in the future. The DfT says that the responses are being analysed and will be taken into account as the franchise proposals are developed further.
This project will depend on a combination of track and signalling improvements along with a new fleet of 125mph trains. It can be assumed that all three shortlisted companies will be talking to train manufacturers about the provision of a new electric trains for the route.
But this may not be good news for all passengers because the current Intercity carriages used on these trains were built in the late 1970s and have been consistently regarded as the finest, safest and most comfortable passenger trains ever built. Any new train will have to surpass these standards which will not be a cheap option. Each new carriage will almost certainly cost around £2 million plus the parallel maintenance contracts.
Who is likely to be negotiating these new trains? Hitachi, Siemens, The China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation Ltd and Bombardier will be interested in this deal. They will all be looking at offering 125mph long distance trains with luggage space and all mod cons plus excellent performance and reliability to ensure the DfT’s aspirations are met.
The new operator is due to take over the franchise in October 2016. The East Anglia franchise, which is currently operated by Abellio Greater Anglia, carries 354,000 passengers a day on 5 routes across the region.
First group and National Express were both once the dominant UK train operator while that position today is arguably held by Stagecoach. First and Stagecoach both operate long distance, commuter and rural services while National Express operate the UK’s most punctual railway, the C2C franchise and Abellio currently operate the Greater Anglia franchise. This operates a mixture of all three services and carries around 350,000 passengers a day.
Rail minister Claire Perry said: We have ambitious plans for East Anglia’s rail network, and the successful bidder will be central to making these plans a reality. We want to find a partner who will help us meet the increasing demand for transport in the region by providing faster, more reliable journeys and better connections across the region and beyond.
Tim O'Toole, FirstGroup Chief Executive said: "We have extensive experience of intercity, regional and commuter services, such as those that make up the East Anglia franchise, and we have a strong track record in delivering passenger growth as well as capacity and infrastructure upgrades on the franchises we run - First Great Western and First TransPennine Express.
We look forward to reviewing the East Anglia franchise contract details and submitting an innovative, compelling, and value for money bid which meets the needs of taxpayers as well as customers and businesses along the route."
Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths said: "We are one of the country's leading rail companies and we know the railway is central to the economy in East Anglia. “We believe our strong track record, combined with the insight of Abellio, can produce a powerful joint bid to deliver a better experience for customers, and support jobs and businesses in the region.”
National Express said “It is pleased to be shortlisted by the Department for Transport for the new East Anglia franchise and Andrew Chivers, National Express’ Managing Director for Rail, said: “We're pleased to have been shortlisted for the East Anglia franchise competition.
We will now focus on developing a bid that delivers real customer service improvements that meet the region's ambitions for a high quality railway that better serves passengers and the local economy. We look forward to working with passengers and local stakeholders to develop our plans.” Last year National Express won a new 15-year franchise for c2c, which included plans for additional trains, free WiFi and automatic compensation when passengers are delayed for as little as two minutes.”
It is likely that it will be a tough decision to make and the improvements will be seen in three or four years time, ready for the 2020 election...