News story

Massive boost to rail services in the north-east brings Northern Powerhouse to life

Government intends to award Northern franchise to Arriva Rail North Ltd, and TransPennine Express franchise to First Trans Pennine Express Ltd.

Bishop Auckland railway station.
  • the government promised passengers in the north-east a world class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality – today that is being delivered as new contracts for Northern and TransPennine Express franchises are awarded
  • government announces intention to award Northern franchise to Arriva Rail North Limited, and TransPennine Express franchise to First Trans Pennine Express Limited
  • together, these operators will oversee a massive £1.2 billion boost to rail services with 500 brand-new modern carriages, room for 40,000 more passengers, thousands more services and a host of improvements across the north to deliver a modern, 21st century passenger experience
  • improvements in the north-east include more space for passengers travelling into Newcastle at peak times, extra services and station improvements for Middlesbrough and new services to Scotland

Rail journeys in the north-east will undergo the biggest transformation in decades, thanks to an unprecedented package of improvements being delivered in new franchise deals, the government announced today (9 December 2015).

More than 500 brand-new carriages, the removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacer trains, room for 40,000 extra passengers at the busiest times, and more than 2,000 extra services a week will be delivered across the north.

The government has announced it intends to award the Northern franchise to Arriva Rail North Limited, and the TransPennine Express franchise to First Trans Pennine Express Limited. Together they will oversee a massive £1.2 billion boost to rail services with brand-new modern trains, more seats, more services and a host of improvements to deliver a modern, 21st century passenger experience - as well as playing a vital role in bringing the Northern Powerhouse to life, rebalancing the economy, creating jobs, opportunity and growth, and providing significantly better journeys across the region.

As part of the government’s commitment to ensure local passengers are at the heart of the rail network and devolve power to those that know their economies and customers best, the franchises will be jointly managed from Leeds by the Department for Transport and Rail North Limited - which represents 29 local authorities across the north.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

We promised passengers in the north-east a world class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality – and I’m delighted that we have found 2 operators that will deliver exactly that. As a one nation government we are committed to closing the economic gap between north and south. This deal, and the joint management of the franchises, will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life.

In 2004, the last time these contracts were awarded, the government did not plan for growth – today we’ve put that right.

Arriva Rail North Limited and First Trans Pennine Express Limited went far beyond our requirements with exciting, ambitious plans that will make a real difference to customers, and – coupled with our 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. This is fantastic news for the north-east.

Northern and TransPennine Express franchises investment in stations infographic.

Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities said:

Passengers were clear that they wanted to see a transformation including a lot more newer, better, trains running more regularly with a step change in services provided off-peak and on Sundays. They also wanted improvements to stations and changes to make ticketing easier - and thanks to all the partnership work by Rail North and the Department for Transport, that’s exactly what we are able to announce today.

This is another crucial move towards devolution for the north. Rail North will now play a major role in the management and development of both new franchises, providing an excellent platform for further development and full devolution in the future. Rail North will work very closely with Transport for the North to drive forward economic growth by developing visionary proposals to deliver radically improved connectivity across the north.

Arriva Rail North Limited will run the Northern franchise – which is the second largest in the UK and operates regional and commuter services across the region – from April 2016 until March 2025. The operator will oversee the complete removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacers by the end of 2019, introduce more than 2,000 extra services each week, and will invest £400 million in 281 brand new air-conditioned carriages to be rolled out across the north – more than double the minimum required in the government’s invitation to tender.

Northern franchise extra capacity infographic.

In the north-east, specific improvements on the Northern network include:

  • more services providing space for nearly 30% more passengers into Newcastle during the morning rush hour
  • a new high-quality ‘Northern Connect’ service, meaning new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys and stations staffed daily with catering services and free Wi-Fi at each one – as well as serving Newcastle, this network will also serve other destinations including Middlesbrough, Hexham and MetroCentre
  • extra services to MetroCentre from Sunderland and Morpeth, Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle, and between Bishop Auckland and Middlesbrough via Darlington
  • more services between Middlesbrough and Newcastle, also benefiting Stockton; more evening services between Darlington and Middlesbrough; and extra services between Middlesbrough and Whitby
  • improved ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers

Chris Burchell, Managing Director of Arriva’s UK Trains division, said:

We are proud to be given the opportunity to transform rail travel for passengers in the north of England and to work closely with our partners to connect towns, cities and communities like never before.

We will be investing more than £1 billion to deliver a step-change in quality for customers and dramatically improving services, stations, information and ticketing. Our aim is to be the communities’ local railway and to leave a positive lasting legacy for the north of England.

Northern franchise jobs, skills and apprenticeships infographic.

First Trans Pennine Express Limited will operate services on the TransPennine Express franchise – which runs intercity services across the north-east and into Scotland – from April 2016 until March 2023. They will bring in 220 new carriages, equivalent to 44 trains, providing fast 125 mph services across the network, as well as introducing in the north-east:

  • brand new, state of the art trains, providing 4 times the number of seats into Newcastle during the morning rush hour
  • more services from Newcastle to York, Leeds and Manchester
  • a new service from Newcastle to Edinburgh via Morpeth
  • extra direct services from Middlesbrough to Leeds, Manchester and Manchester Airport on longer, new-build trains
  • new cycling facilities and parcel collection services at Middlesbrough station
  • discounted advance fares for 16- to 18-year-olds and jobseekers
TransPennine Express extra seats infographic.

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.

We will work with local authorities, customers and community groups to give them a real stake in the future of their intercity rail travel. The new TransPennine Express will connect the north and keep people moving and communities prospering across the region.

TransPennine Express franchise jobs, skills and apprenticeships infographic.

Both operators will provide free Wi-Fi – on TransPennine Express services and stations by July 2018, and on all Northern services and 36 stations by December 2019 – with media servers on trains providing entertainment and information to smartphones and tablets. The operators will also be expected to meet challenging targets to improve customer satisfaction and reduce cancellations and short-formations, and to introduce automatic delay repay compensation for passengers who buy season and advance-purchase tickets online. They will also make £55 million of much-needed investment in stations to bring them into the 21st century.

Northern and TransPennine Express franchises Wi-Fi infographic.

During the franchises, the government and Network Rail will also forge ahead with electrification of the TransPennine line to deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity. Network Rail is currently developing a detailed plan for the work which, when finished, will provide a fully electrified route between Liverpool and Newcastle. The work is expected to be completed in 2022. The operators will also support the roll out of Oyster-style smart ticketing on public transport across the north, backed by £150 million of government funding.

Northern and TransPennine Express franchises automatic compensation for delays infographic.

The deal will also mean significant returns to government and better value for the taxpayer. The government will receive £400 million in premiums from First Trans Pennine Express Limited over the life of the franchise; previously, the franchise was subsidised by the government. The amount of annual subsidy the government pays for the Northern franchise will be reduced by £160 million by the end of the 9-year contract.

Following the announcement, and in accordance with usual procurement practice, there will be a standstill period of 10 days before the department will be in a position to enter into, and complete, the formal contractual documentation and make the award to Arriva Rail North Limited and First Trans Pennine Express Limited.

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Published 9 December 2015