Published: 6th May 2016
The new TransPennine Express (TPE) franchise has commenced and promised radical improvements in the next five years or so. TPE services link Liverpool and Manchester with east coast destinations such as Scarborough, Hull and Newcastle as well as running at the moment to Glasgow and Edinburgh via Carlisle.
The new franchise will run for seven years and TPE claim that an investment of more than £500million will be made, but not all by them if you read the detail carefully! The new trains will account for a huge amount of this and they will be leased to the operator by Angel Trains. But, semantics apart, there looks to be real improvements in prospect with an 80 per cent rise in capacity at peak times and 55% more trains running between the largest cities in the North of England and Edinburgh and Glasgow via Carlisle and Newcastle by 2019.
Hitachi will be providing 220 new carriages by 2020 offering an additional annual 13million seats. The trains will have a top speed of 125mph initially but can be regeared to 140mph if and when the track and signalling is upgraded. Once electrification is delivered on TPE routes, the 125mph speeds will reduce travel times significantly. The current 100mph diesel Class 185 trains will be subject to a £20-million-plus refurbishment scheme.
Under the new operator and when the timetable permits, weekend services will be at the same density as weekdays The new franchise will be solely operated by First Group who were the majority shareholder in the previous franchise with Keolis since 2004 with passenger numbers more than doubling from 13million to 29million in that time.
Managing Director Leo Goodwin said: “This new franchise will lead to a complete overhaul of train travel in the North and Scotland. Over the next four years the customer experience on our services will be reimagined with improved catering, more seats, faster trains, innovative ticketing systems and improved journey times.
“While some things will take time to implement, customers will notice some changes immediately. The catering across our services will begin to improve from today, while the refurbishment of our Class 185 rolling stock will start later this year. We are also committed to improving our response to delays and cancellations, with an automatic delay repay system implemented within 12 months and Wi-Fi at all TPE stations in 2017.
“We will be working hard over the next four years to achieve these major changes and create an outstanding intercity rail service that will take the North further.”
The fleet size will increase by two-thirds, with over 70% of it new made up of the 44 new Hitachi AT300 intercity trains comprised of 220 new carriages to be introduced by 2019. An 80% increase in seats (20,000 extra peak seats daily) serving the five largest cities in the North including a doubling of Sunday services. An increase of 55% in TPE services between seven largest cities on the network by 2019
The new 125mph trains will link Newcastle with Manchester Airport from December 2016 with two trains per hour service to Newcastle in December 2017. A new direct service between Liverpool and Glasgow will commence in December 2018 and TPE trains will run to Edinburgh via Newcastle from December 2019.
From 2019, there will be 16 additional daily services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Manchester by 2019, creating meaningful competition with Virgin services. The extremely busy corridor between Leeds and Manchester will be served by six trains an hour between Manchester and Leeds and weekend services will be at similar frequency to weekdays. St Helens and Morpeth are amongst a dozen new calling points for TPE trains from 2017.
There will also be free Wi-Fi on Anglo-Scottish services and at all TPE managed stations by summer 2017 and all trains will boast free Wi-Fi a year later unusually offering free TV programmes and films on demand. USB ports will be accessible at every seat as well.
The Hitachi fleet of AT300 ‘Inter City’ trains has been financed by Angel Trains are ‘bi-mode’ meaning they can work with overhead electric wires or under diesel power away from electrified lines. These trains offer an extra 161 seats compared to the average class 185 train and most will be assembled at Hitachi’s Rail Vehicle Manufacturing Facility at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham and commence operations in 2019.
The franchise agreement looks to be a good one and will encourage ridership and continue to boost the railways, a real vote of confidence by politicians but Virgin and Cross Country may not be so happy as the new TPE services will run in direct competition to them.
The TPE franchise has come a long way since it used Class 158 trains!