FirstGroup retains TransPennine franchise

Aberdeen-based transport giant FirstGroup has retained the TransPennine Express rail franchise until at least 2023.

The franchise will play a key part in delivery of the UK Government’s much-vaunted “Northern Powerhouse” economic policy.

More than £500 million will be invested in rail services in the north of England and Scotland during the life of the renewed franchise.

Many more train carriages will be added under the new franchise, with an 80% increase in capacity at the busiest times of the day.

The new TransPennine Express will increase connections between the largest cities in the north of England and Scotland by 55 per cent by 2019 — and 220 new vehicles will be introduced by 2019 to provide an extra 13 million train seats a year.

“We promised passengers a world class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality — and I’m delighted that we have found an operator that will deliver exactly that,” said Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.

“As a one nation government we are committed to closing the economic gap between north and south.”

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole (pictured) said: “Our plans include investment in new and refurbished trains on every part of the network, with millions more seats available, free Wi-Fi and simpler smart and mobile ticketing, allowing us to build on the success we have had over the past 11 years, in which we have more than doubled passenger journeys on the network.”

FirstGroup said that under the new contract, it will deliver £303 million of premium payments to the UK Government over the franchise’s “core period.”

FirstGroup said that 2017/18 will mark “the transition of this franchise from being a subsidised railway to one which delivers a premium to the taxpayer.”

Franchise passenger revenues, £213 million in 2014/15, are expected to increase significantly from the additional capacity created, FirstGroup said.

“The full revenue risk franchise includes a profit sharing arrangement whereby a proportion of profit in excess of pre-specified thresholds will be payable to the Department for Transport,” said FirstGroup.

*Key benefits of the new TransPennine Express franchise, according to FirstGroup:

New and improved trains —

* 44 new state of the art intercity trains, 220 new carriages introduced by 2019

* Fleet size increases by two-thirds, with over 70% of it new

* Existing trains all fully refurbished.

More capacity —

* 20,000 extra peak seats per day giving an 80% increase into seven largest cities on the network; with 13 million more seats across the timetable each year by 2019

* More than double existing capacity on Sundays. New and better connections

* 55% increase in TransPennine Express connections between seven largest cities on the network by 2019

* New 125mph rolling stock supporting reductions in journey time across the region

* Direct trains from Newcastle to/from Manchester Airport reinstated in December 2016 with two trains per hour service to Newcastle in December 2017

* New direct services from Liverpool to Glasgow from December 2018

* Extension of TransPennine Express services beyond Newcastle to Edinburgh from December 2019

* 16 additional services per day from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Manchester by 2019

* Six trains an hour between Manchester and Leeds every hour – over 100 services a day

* Weekend services at similar frequency to weekdays

* More early and late trains supporting the economic development of the region

* An integrated network with better connections with local rail, bus and light rail

* 13 new destinations served including St Helens and Morpeth added to the TransPennine Express network from 2017 and 2019, respectively. Both gaining new hourly direct links to Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and York. More reliable services

* Target to reduce delays and cancellations by 27%, underpinned by new partnership agreement with Network Rail. Modern, flexible and value for money ticketing

* Paperless tickets via mobile, available on all routes and for bus/rail journeys

* Enabling Smart in the North – integrated ticketing with local smart card schemes

* More through ticketing with bus, Manchester Metrolink and other tram or light rail systems

* Discounted fares available for 16-18 year olds and for job-seekers

* Online direct debit season ticket purchase and further group travel discounts

* Bookings available up to 26 weeks in advance for Anglo-Scottish services

* Delay Repay when things go wrong; automatic compensation for registered customers. Better connected, better informed, better customer experience

* Free Wi-Fi on Anglo-Scottish services and at all stations by summer 2017

* Free Wi-Fi on all trains by July 2018 with free TV programmes and films on demand

* Improved on-board catering, and plugs and USB ports accessible at every seat

* Real-time passenger information screens on all trains by April 2019

* New mobile app with journey planner; real-time seat availability on the app and website

* 24/7 social media team; hearing loops on every train; cycle storage on board. Station improvements

* Total of £18m invested in stations across the franchise (19 stations in all)

* £2.8m investment in customer information systems at stations

* £1.4m Hull station retail development

* New or improved ticket offices at Manchester Airport, Huddersfield and Hull

* Extra car parking spaces and additional cycle parking

* Improved customer facilities at stations including Click & Collect. Community and sustainability benefits

* 30% reduction in train carbon emissions

* 31% reduction in non-traction energy use

* 90% of waste to be recycled or prepared for re-use (from 2018)

* A Living Wage employer, covering all employees and contracted staff

* Dedicated fund to help small businesses grow through innovative use of stations

* £29m of funding to support customer and community identified improvements in the franchise