by Phil Marsh

Government announces First Group will retain the next Transpennine franchise.

Published: 14th December

Transpennine electrification forging ahead says Transport Secretary

but no mention of the political wiring pause though!

The next TransPennine Express franchise has been awarded to First Trans Pennine Express (FTPE) Ltd and the award will transform services say the politicians. FTPE will continue to operate services between Blackpool and Glasgow in the west to Middlesborough, Scarborough, Hull and Edinburgh in the east. The trains provide a vital link across the Pennines to northern cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Bradford and into Scotland.

First Group in competition with Virgin Rail Group

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that First Group will retain their TransPennine Express franchise which marks First Group’s first rail franchise win for several years. Their last win was the West Coast Main Line award which when challenged by Virgin, was rescinded amongst much acrimony. Subsequently First Group lost the First Capital Connect and Scotrail operations.

The legal challenge by Virgin readers may recall, brought franchising to an abrupt halt and the DfT’s errors have been estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of pounds in the resultant direct awards and subsequent reviews and re-organisations.

The new FTPE franchise will bring direct competition against Virgin on Anglo-Scottish routes which given First Group’s history with Virgin could bring some interesting offers! How this will be managed from Leeds by the DfT and Rail North Limited which represents 29 northern local authorities will be also interesting.

They said:

Transport Secretary Mr McLoughlin said that First Trans Pennine Express Limited had bid far in excess of the minimum requirements for the franchise with exciting, ambitious plans that will make a real difference to customers. Conveniently forgetting the electrification ‘pause’ imposed immediately after the general election, he added that “This coupled with our (DfT) commitment to push ahead with electrifying the vital TransPennine route – will help the region realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st century transport system.

Mr Mcloughlin was also quoted as saying; “the government and Network Rail (NR) will also forge ahead with electrification of the TransPennine line to deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity. The organisations have not yet even scoped the project to any degree.

Seven years but who will build the new trains?

FTPE will operate services between the major cities of the north of England and the two major Scottish cities under the new franchise from April 2016 until March 2023. The announcement is big on headlines but brief on detail concerning the 220 new carriages to be procured at a cost of an estimated £400 million.

Who will be manufacturing the 125mph trains is not yet known but Hitachi and Siemens have the trains but both have pretty full order books for the next few years. There is always a 10 day standstill after a franchise award to allow for objections to be made so it is possible that the rolling stock manufacturer will be announced after this contractual requirement.

Anglo-Scottish services improve

The new franchise will bring new and additional services to Edinburgh and Glasgow with a Liverpool to Glasgow service from December 2018 operated by the new electric trains. The current service to Newcastle will be extended to Edinburgh from December 2019 and extra services will operate from December 2017 between Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The number of trains running between Manchester and Newcastle will double while an enhanced service will link Hull, Manchester and Leeds from the same date. These are likely to be operated by new trains that are known as ‘bi-mode’, that is using electric power collected from overhead wires and switching to diesel power away from electrified lines. FTPE will lease 31 five carriage new 125 mph trains to operate Anglo-Scottish services on the East Coast and West Coast Main Lines.

The morning peak services will eventually offer an extra 9,000 seats into Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle boosting overall capacity by two thirds says the DfT.

They said:

Tim O’Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, said:

Our new TransPennine Express franchise will deliver faster and more frequent intercity train services between the north’s major towns and cities and we are excited to help the government achieve its vision for a Northern Powerhouse. Our plans include investment in new and refurbished trains on every part of the network, with millions more seats available, free Wi-Fi and simpler smart and mobile ticketing, allowing us to build on the success we have had over the past 11 years, in which we have more than doubled passenger journeys on the network.

From July 2018, FTPE will provide free Wi-Fi on their routes and stations forming part of new customer satisfaction improvements and they have pledged to reduce cancellations and short-formations. An investment of £55 million will be made improving stations. The TPE award will bring an estimated £400 million in premiums from FTPE over the life of the franchise while the current one is subsidised by the DfT. The new franchise will see

It does seem that services will radically improve over the next five years or so and this can only be a good thing and the regular overcrowding problems should be eased.

This problem was made worse by the DfT delaying the decision about the franchise and some Class 170 diesel trains being snapped up by Chiltern Railways when they came off-lease. This meant that there was no available stock to increase he train length to help combat the growth in passenger numbers. The new trains will enable a train every ten minutes between Manchester and Leeds, no need to consult a timetable when this service starts.

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