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Rail devolution boost for north as two franchises awarded

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has awarded the long-awaited Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) franchises to Arriva and FirstGroup respectively, and confirmed they will be managed from Leeds rather than London.

The Northern franchise contract will run for nine years, with the option for a year’s extension at the government’s discretion. The TPE franchise will run for seven years, but with the option for a two-year extension.

Both will start from April of next year, equipped to expand the existing franchises to deliver more services, extra trains and better on-board and station features.

According to the secretary of state, their pitches went “well beyond” the ambitious plans he had set for the new franchise in the government’s invitation to tender. Arriva, for example, has promised to entirely remove the “outdated and unpopular” Pacer trains by the end of 2019, while investing another £400m in 281 new air-conditioned carriages – more than double what was required by the Department for Transport.

Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities and leader of Manchester City Council, said: “This is another crucial move towards devolution for the north. Rail North [a body which represents 29 local authorities across the 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.”

Both Northern and the TPE franchise will be jointly managed from Leeds by the DfT and Rail North.

The new franchises have been designed to boost the connectivity throughout the north, particularly reflected through a host of new direct links across Yorkshire and the Humber and thousands more spaces on the morning and evening peak times.


As part of the TPE deal, which will benefit from £500 investment during the first four years, FirstGroup will increase connections between the largest cities in the north and Scotland by 55% by 2019.

A total of 44 new state-of-the-art intercity trains will also be introduced by then, increasing the existing fleet capacity by two-thirds. All existing trains will be refurbished.

Under recommendations from its chairman, Network Rail will work alongside the DfT and devolved rail body Transport for the North to develop a new electrification plan of the TransPennine Line. The upgrade is expected to provide capacity for six fast or semi-fast trains per hour, shave up to 15 minutes from current journey times between Manchester and York, and finish by 2022.

The franchise will also evolve to paperless ticketing via mobile on all routes, helping enable an initiative seeking to deliver integrated ticketing in the north with local smart card schemes.


There will be a 37% increase in peak capacity into Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds by 2019, and 46% more capacity into Leeds and Sheffield during the morning rush hour.

A new ‘Northern Connect’ service will introduce new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys, stations staffed with catering services and free wi-fi on 36 stations and all services by December 2019.

There will also be media servers on trains to provide entertainment and information to smartphones and tables, and all staff will be issued smart devices.

All of these improvements will be matched with better ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers.

Overall improvements

As always, both new franchises will be tasked with improving customer satisfaction and reducing cancellations and short-formations, as well as introducing automatic ‘delay repay’ compensation for passengers who buy season and advance tickets online.

They will also tackle employment in the north by pledging slightly different amounts of apprentice and graduate recruitment, as well as committing to pay the new national living wage, providing full pay during statutory maternity leave and cutting off zero hour contracts.

PSE’s sister title, Rail Technology Magazine, has revealed more information on the Northern and TransPennine franchises.

(Top image c. Alex Thorkildsen)


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