Published: 2nd February 2016
The Department for Transport (DfT) has commenced the process to award a new West Midlands rail franchise currently operated by the Govia owned London Midland, a partnership between the Go-Ahead Group and Keolis.
It is geographically huge franchise running rural, urban and in competition with Virgin, fast 110mph long distance services on the West Coast Main Line between Liverpool, Birmingham, Crewe and London Euston. It is the UK’s second most heavily subsidised franchise and operates the heavily used commuter services between Euston, Milton Keynes and Northampton plus the branch lines from Bletchley to Bedford and Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey.
They are seeking views on what passengers and other stakeholders would like to see in the franchise from October 2017 which could mean a shake-up of trains and routes.
Given the West Midlands franchise requires significant subsidy, the DfT is expressly looking for value for money for taxpayers and fare paying passenger.
Intriguingly the DfT consultation document says that ‘they want the new franchise to lay the foundations for rail services in the West Midlands region to be increasingly specified, managed and decided locally rather than by Central Government’. Or in other words locally controlled under the Government’s devolution policy
Franchise passenger numbers have more than doubled from 37 million in 2005/6 to over 78 million in 2013/14, the highest rail growth of any region in the UK, which is predicted to continue. The franchise serves many city centres, airports and major venues such as Wembley and the NEC, so later evening trains are being requested.
The new operator will focus on performance and quality for the customer, so that trains are more likely to run to time but obviously as Network Rail is the largest cause of delay, the new operator will be reliant on them.
The DfT say that ‘it is hoped that the new franchise will begin to pave the way for full rail devolution in the future’. This brings a requirement for the new operator to illustrate how local services within the West Midlands area could be separated from the long distance and London/branch line services. This further underlines the Government’s devolution agenda which is to transfer decision making about rail services to appropriate local bodies.
The DfT decrees that the new franchisee will also work alongside the West Midlands Combined Authority on a wider local devolution package agreed by West Midlands Local Authorities and Government in November 2015. This includes an £8 billion ten-year investment plan to drive economic growth and improve local transport and the delivery of a series of rail improvements to ensure nowhere in the West Midlands metropolitan area is more than 40 minutes from a High Speed Rail station.
And this is where HS2 comes in. The new franchisee will have to work with the line’s construction and interfaces which will be disruptive where the two lines connect.
The DfT is asking for input from passengers and groups using their local knowledge and expertise to bring key issues to their attention and therefore to bidders. Consultation events are now underway held by the DfT and are a chance for you to hear first-hand about plans for the new franchise and an opportunity to ask any questions. Consultation events:
Consultation events run until March giving anyone the opportunity to speak to the project team and ask any questions to help inform their response.
These will be held at:
London Midland operates 173 electric and diesel trains plus two gas-powered lightweight railcars on the Stourbridge Branch Line. Punctuality and reliability is measured against the Public Performance Measure (PPM) which shows the percentage of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time. London Midland currently manages 87.7% PPM, below the national average of 89.5% and the national target of 92.5% by March 2019.
London Midland runs more than 1,300 trains on weekdays calling at 170 stations (managing 145 of these) and the DfT looks to start the new franchise in October 2017.
Ticketless travel is being recorded at the moment with a view on seeing how much there is and what to do about it. Some is deliberate and some is because there is no option to buy a ticket. This is because of unstaffed stations, a lack of suitable and available ticket machines and gates and a lack of ticket checks due to overcrowding or conductors being busy with door operation, dispatch and announcements.
Ideas for locally run community enterprises such as at Ridgmont station between Bletchley and Bedford are welcomed. Ridgmont was a disused station but a regeneration scheme the DfT says has brought new life to a once redundant station building as a Heritage Centre and tea room that serves the local community and railway users.
For more information or to register your interest in attending an event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org , placing ‘event’ in the subject line.