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Roads to Nowhere

Is the Northern Powerhouse finally getting on track?

Andrew Allen's picture

New franchises for northern England’s rail services have been announced. What do they add up to and how do they relate to the plethora of other developments around transport in the north?

The Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed that from April next year TransPennine Express (TPE) will be run by First Group and Northern Rail by Arriva. Here’s our summary of what’s included in their winning bids.

Together, the franchise deals represent £1.2bn of investment to 2025. Two thirds of the money will go on new trains to help tackle overcrowding and allow the Pacers to be permanently shunted out of the north (although they may yet reappear elsewhere in the country). By the middle of the franchise period, up to 2,000 extra services will be running, better supporting the core cities at peak times and filling some of the yawning gaps in Sunday services. A new high-quality ‘Northern Connect’ service will be launched to link other major settlements like Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn and Lincoln, and new direct services to Glasgow will also be introduced from Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. Also promised is an overhaul of the ticketing system, with £150m going to Transport for the North to develop a pan-region Oyster-like smart card.

This is exactly the type of investment our Right Track North campaign has been pushing for. While it’s important to give the Government credit for listening, the case for investment is clear and pressing. Much of the new money simply represents ‘catch up’ for routes that have been starved of investment for many years. For example, adding large numbers of new seats to TPE is overdue – it has both highest seat occupancy rate of any franchise and runs two of the most overcrowded services on the entire network. Similarly, better rolling stock for Northern is a pre-requisite for growing passenger numbers because much of the existing stock is so decrepit.

Despite the overwhelming case for investment, it nearly didn’t happen. Both the winning franchise bids go significantly further than the Government’s Invitation to Tender required them to. DfT appraisal dictated that the Pacers should stay – direct intervention by the Secretary of State was needed to overrule the Civil Servants.

Today's announcement does not yet form part of an articulated strategy. Decisions about these franchises appears to have happened separately from other railway infrastructure plans like HS2 and HS3. While there is money for major new infrastructure, the Spending Review again reinforced that there’s very little for everyday transport like local road maintenance and bus services. Nor are there links to cutting air pollution, connecting people to jobs and services, or reducing carbon emissions.

Finally, this is all taking place within the context of devolution. Transport for the North, Rail North and others have a major job on their hands getting the best out of welcome but dislocated investment plans.

Northern and TransPennine Express franchises
Key points

Franchise details

  • New franchises will run for 9 years from April 2016 (TPE will to subject to a two year extension)
  • Both will be managed by a Rail North / DfT partnership in Leeds
  • Estimated £1.2bn investment over the life of the franchises - £800m of which goes on rolling stock
  • TPE - First will pay premium to the government of around £400m over the franchise
  • Northern - Arriva receive reduce the amount of annual government subsidy required by around £140 million over 9 years (current subsidy is £324m a year)
  • Northern and TPE both went beyond the ITT requirement - good news, but highlighting some weaknesses in the ITT process

Trains

  • Pacers withdrawn by end of 2019 - given rolling stock shortages, expect to see them refurbished and parcelled off elsewhere in the country
  • 500 new-build carriages, including 125mph intercity bi-mode electric/diesel trains on both franchises (no date given for their introduction).
  • On Northern - 281 new air-conditioned carriages costing circa £400m
  • Remaining 220 new carriages for TPE (cost circa £400m)

Capacity and services

  • Overall, 2,000 extra services a week (400 on Sundays, most of the rest at peak times)
  • 37% increase on morning peak commuter routes into core cities by 2019 (Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle & Sheffield) (31,000 extra seats).
  • This includes 66% extra morning peak capacity on TPE (an extra 9,000 seats)
  • New 'high-quality Northern Connect service' serving the 5 major cities and Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley, Lincoln, Worksop and Retford
  • New direct services Liverpool to Glasgow (Dec 2018) and Newcastle to Edinburgh (Dec 2019 – with introduction of electric trains), and Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh (December 2017)
  • Targets for reduce cancellations and short-formations (no detail included)

Ticketing

  • Automatic delays-repay on registered season and advance tickets when smart ticketing has been rolled out - Train operators required to cooperate with TftN on this
  • Mobile and print-at-home tickets and discounted advance fares for 16-18 year olds and jobseekers
  • No detail yet on what the new smart ticketing arrangements will look like or when they'll be implemented
  • No mention of withdrawal of evening peak fares

Facilities

  • Free Wi-Fi on TPE from July 2018, and Northern services by December 2019
  • £55m on station improvements and introducing staff at 45 unstaffed stations

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