New Rail Franchises Will Transform Travel in the North

Some excellent news for the North of England and Scotland was announced in December 2015. A £1.5bn investment to provide improved facilities at stations in the form of new trains as well as new and faster services as part of Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.

For local rail users this will be the most meaningful transport investment in years and marks a major part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative. The franchises start in April 2016 to replace existing operations and could run for­ 9-10 years.

FirstGroup will operate the new TransPennine Express franchise. £400m of new electric, diesel and bi-mode trains will provide fast connections from Liverpool to Glasgow and better services from Manchester to the North East. More seats will be provided, services will be more frequent and a full weekend timetable will operate.

The Northern franchise operated by Arriva Rail North Ltd is proposing a £1bn investment in the renewal of its train fleet. The centrepiece will be 12 inter-city services marketed as ‘Northern Connect’ joining Northern cities with new trains. Most notably the Leeds-Nottingham journey time will be slashed from 2 hours and 10 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes.

In terms of timescales, many of the improvements are dependent on the successful and timely completion of infrastructure projects such as the Northern Hub, electrification and the removal of pinch-points on the network. Many of these schemes are close to construction.

The new trains needed will be ordered in 2016 and should be in service by 2019, replacing the old and uncomfortable Pacer units. Improvements in ticketing, upgraded stations and gradual rollout of the new and improved services will commence immediately. Most passenger groups and transport bodies have welcomed the commitments – successful delivery is now a must to help grow the north.

I look forward to seeing some good progress on my travels across the rail network in 2016.