Published: 14th August 2016
The Dutch Railways Abellio subsidiary has emerged as the winner of the latest rail franchise competition the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced. The announcement was due in June but it is thought that the BREXIT vote delayed the decision for a month. This would normally affect the start date but as Abellio has been operating the franchise for the last four years, which included a direct award extension by the DfT, a shorter mobilisation period than usual was required. The new arrangements will run for nine years commencing on 16 October and 2016.
Many of the existing trains date back 25 years to British Rail days with only a couple of modern fleets in service. The Abellio bid will bring a total fleet renewal across the East Anglia franchise ‘delivering a transformation for the passenger’ they said. It will also bring to an end of train toilets discharging directly onto the tracks as the new trains will have retention tanks fitted.
We will replace every one of the current vehicles with new, modern, high performing trains. This, coupled with significant journey time improvements, a 55% increase in seats into London in the morning peak and more than a thousand additional train services each week will deliver a step change in what our passengers experience day to day.
Dominic Booth, Managing Director of Abellio UK, said: “This is great news not only for Abellio but for the whole of East Anglia. We are pleased to become preferred bidder to deliver a transformation in rail services across the region. It will enable us to build on the successes of the two short East Anglian franchises we have run since 2012, and we commend the DfT on running a transparent and rigorous procurement process.
Our plans will greatly improve our customers’ experience with faster and more reliable journeys on new trains with higher frequencies and reduced journey times, to support the socio-economic well-being of East Anglia, one of the country’s most successful and fastest growing areas.”
Abellio state that a £1.5bn investment will be made in 1043 new electric and bi-mode vehicles by 2020 and many existing trains refurbished. But who will be investing the cash? Will it be the rail company or a Rolling Stock leasing company?
The Liverpool Street to Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich services are operated using 35 year-old Mark 3 carriages which have just been renovated at Wolverton Works in a three year project. These are generally accepted as being the best carriages ever built in Britain in terms of seat comfort, room and ride quality. Hopefully the new fleet will be able to match these qualities. A huge £120million will be spent on depots with a new maintenance facility at Manningtree. Whether this is included in the cost of trains is not clear though.
The 32,000 extra seats being provided into London in the morning peak rising to 91,000 will be welcomed by all as will the extra services although the announced figure of 1,144 additional weekday services implies gridlock if this means each day as there will not be enough track to accommodate them!
It has been an aspiration to improved journey times between London and Norwich to 90 minutes and London and Ipswich to 60 minutes which is now being planned for. The provision of free high quality WiFi on all new and refurbished trains and at every station will also be welcomed.
Improved punctuality is promised increasing from 89.7% to 92.9%, a huge step-change and with the extra services operating will be a very tough target to meet. It will depend on smart operating by everyone involved in rail operations.
A station investment programme costing nearly £60million will be made with major schemes at Broxbourne, Cambridge, Cheshunt, Harlow and Southend Victoria. There will also be digital customer information screens at all 131 stations, improved ticket offices, more ticket vending machines and nearly 1,800 additional car parking spaces and 4,000 additional cycle parking spaces which will all help boost passenger numbers.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said:
We are making the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era. By awarding this franchise to Abellio East Anglia we will improve journeys for people in East Anglia. Abellio’s decision will ensure our train building industry in Derby remains strong.
Dominic Booth managing director of Abellio UK said: This is great news not only for Abellio but for the whole of East Anglia. We are pleased to become preferred bidder to deliver a transformation in rail services across the region.
Des McKeon UK Commercial Director at Bombardier Transportation said: We’re delighted to be chosen, pending final contract signing, as the preferred supplier for new trains for the East Anglia franchise. We look forward to working with our customer the Abellio UK, to support them in transforming rail services throughout the region and delivering an enhanced customer experience through the provision of new trains.
The franchise generates over 97 million journeys annually made on around 8,600 trains every week carrying commuters to London and the busy regional hubs at Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich. The leisure market serves Stansted Airport and the coastal and rural resorts around the region such as Lowestoft, Yarmouth and Southend.
Abellio also operates the Scotrail franchise and is a partner in the Merseyrail franchise and has also operated Northern Rail as a joint venture.