Councils in the West Midlands were key architects of a ‘ground-breaking’ new franchise offer for the region’s rail services, published today.
West Midlands Rail (WMR), a consortium of the region's 14 metropolitan, shire and unitary authorities, said passengers will enjoy extra capacity, more frequent services and free wi-fi under a new, locally managed rail network.
The invitation to tender has been drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT) in collaboration with WMR and was announced by rail minister Paul Maynard.
The plans include 30,000 extra peak time journeys into Birmingham
It lays out the minimum specifications to be met by whichever train operator wins the next West Midlands franchise, due to start in October 2017.
WMR said a number of improvements have resulted from its influence in the design of the new franchise, which it will also part manage, allowing more local control and influence over services.
Cllr Mark Winnington, chair of WMR and Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for economic growth, said: ‘Today’s announcement is a game changer in that it is the first time the region has had this level of involvement in shaping what a train company has to deliver for local passengers.
‘The region has come together to grab this devolution opportunity with both hands and we believe that together with the DfT we have set out a railway that brings real benefits not only for passengers but also for local businesses while supporting economic growth and jobs.’
One improvement in the new franchise will be an increase in Sunday services to the same level of frequency currently seen on Saturdays. This will apply to nearly all local routes and together with more evening services is aimed at better reflecting modern working and leisure patterns.
Other improvements set out in the invitation to tender include space for more than 30,000 additional peak time journeys into Birmingham, bespoke local branding of trains as part of a separate business unit managed by West Midlands Rail, and an expansion of smart ticketing, including ‘product(s) that give customers who travel less than five days a week a better value for money option than buying multiple return journeys’.
Companies bidding for the franchise are being encouraged to include proposals for additional benefits over and above the requirements in the document.
In April the DfT announced that three companies had been shortlisted for the franchise, which is expected to be awarded in June 2017.