Companies bidding for the Northern and Transpennine Express rail franchises have been told they will have to scrap older stock, raise capacity and boost station investment.
Unveiling invitations to tender for the new northern franchises, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said Government demands would ensure services equalled the ‘booming’ local economic landscape.
A central improvement to be included in the Northern franchise will be removal of existing Pacer trains, which have been consistently described as ‘outdated’ by transport campaigners. The decision came after MPs on the Transport Committee branded it ‘unacceptable’ that such vehicles were still in use on busy lines.
Companies looking to bid to run the franchise were also told they would need to modernise every train operating on the route, double the number of services, raise service numbers for commuters, during off-peak times and on Sundays and invest at least £30m to improve local stations.
Key improvements to be included in the Transpennine Express franchise will include more carriages and increased frequency of services, earlier and later running trains and consideration of new services between Liverpool and Scotland, Crewe and Manchester Airport and Newcastle to Edinburgh.
Both deals will also see creation of a new Customer Communities Improvement Fund to deliver customer benefits, with a pot of £13.8m under the Northern franchise and £2.8m for the Transpennine Express.
Mr McLoughlin said: ‘This is great news for passengers across the north, who will finally get a rail service that matches up to the booming economy in this region. That means more seats, more services and a brand new fleet of modern trains.
‘Unlike the last Northern franchise in 2004, which included limited plans to invest in services or meet demand, this deal will maintain investment and grow to fit the needs of passengers for years to come.
‘Together with the £1bn investment we are making to improve the region’s railways and our plans to link east and west through HS3, our railways are making the region an economic powerhouse.’
Companies shortlisted to run the new franchises were announced in August. Firms competing for the Northern franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited. Those bidding for the Transpennine Express franchise are First TransPennine Express Limited, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited and Stagecoach TransPennine Express Trains Limited.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: ‘This is an historic moment for the north. Improving rail links in the region has been much anticipated. These old trains have been rattling across rails in the north for over 30 years; a constant source of complaint which have held the region back.
‘As part of my Northern Futures initiative I asked the people of the north what they wanted to build a stronger economy and transport was top of the list. So I fought hard to replace pacer trains as soon as possible.’
Transport Committee chair, Louise Ellman, said she was ‘delighted’ by requirements to remove Pacer trains, adding that she ‘welcomed the news that the Department for Transport (DfT) has dropped the unfair suggestion that passengers in the north should make a trade-off between significant fare increases and the quality of rolling stock’.
The news comes after the DfT and the leaders of the Rail North group of around 30 local transport authorities in the North of England published the principles of a partnership arrangement for the eventual devolution of the TransPennine Express and Northern franchises last January.
In October 2014 the Department entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Rail North Limited behind the joint working arrangements for management and development of the two franchises.