Abellio wins East Midlands franchise as Stagecoach is barred


A string of rail franchise updates from ministers saw Abellio awarded the East Midlands Railway franchise from August, and Stagecoach barred from certain franchise awards.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it barred Stagecoach from bidding for the East Midlands, South Eastern and West Coast franchises on the grounds that they were ‘non-compliant’ because they did not meet rules on pensions.

Franchise awards on South Eastern and the West Coast remain delayed.

St Pancras is the London terminus for East Midlands services

In a written statement on the East Midlands franchise, transport secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘The franchise is due to start on 18 August 2019 and will run for eight years, until 21 August 2027, with an extension of two years callable at my discretion.’

On the South Eastern franchise, Mr Grayling told MPs: ‘My department is negotiating a short-term extension to the current franchise agreement with Govia while we make a decision on the competition.

'This will ensure continuity of services for passengers until 10 November 2019, with an option to extend the agreement further to April 2020.’

He added: ‘We are due to award the West Coast Partnership in June.’

The West Coast Partnership will be responsible for services on the West Coast Main Line and will design and run the initial HS2 high speed services between London and Birmingham from 2026.

It was initially due to begin in this month. Stagecoach runs the current franchise with Virgin.

The South Eastern franchise, which Govia has held since 2006, was originally due to be handed to the next operator from December 2018.

East Midlands deal

The DfT said Abellio will oversee the introduction of brand-new trains on the East Midlands franchise, ‘entirely replacing the existing intercity fleet with more reliable and comfortable trains’.

Passengers will benefit from an 80% increase in the number of morning peak seats into Nottingham, Lincoln and St Pancras, officials said.

The DfT also promised faster journey times over long distances, a new express service from Corby through Luton into London, the introduction of improved delay repay compensation and ‘flexipass tickets to provide better value fares’.

Abellio will also trial hydrogen fuel cell trains on the Midland Main Line and will run ‘zero-carbon pilots’ at six stations along the route.

Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, said: ‘Abellio will invest £600m in improvements to trains and stations, maximising the effect of the Government’s £1.5bn upgrade of the Midland Main Line, to make journeys easier, more reliable and comfortable for our passengers.’

The DfT said Abellio will oversee the introduction of:

  • more flexible and convenient smart ticketing options
  • free WiFi and high quality mobile connectivity on board services v improved delay repay compensation for all passengers v a stations improvement fund of £16.8m, including £6.9m for accessibility improvements
  • £9.4m of investment to deliver commercial and customer service improvements at stations
  • 916 extra car park spaces and 1,050 cycle spaces
  • ticket buying facilities in place at all stations

Andy McDonald MP, Labour's shadow transport secretary, said: 'The transport secretary has a woeful track record in awarding public contracts so it’s hard to believe today’s rail announcements will be any different.

'How can Chris Grayling award Abellio the East Midlands rail franchise when the chair of his rail review has said the current system couldn’t continue, and rail operator Stagecoach has today said it isn’t fit for purpose?

'The disastrous Govia have made a mockery of passengers on both GTR and Southeastern yet this government will allow the company to continue to profit from rail. They should have been stripped of that contract.'

He added: 'The expulsion of Stagecoach from the rail industry for not backing future pensions payments, once more highlights the vulnerability of the system.'

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