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Government announces invitation to tender for West Midlands rail franchise

31 August 2016  •  Author: Katie Sadler, Digital Content Producer, European Railway Review

According to Rail Minister Paul Maynard, passengers will see a number of new benefits and services during the next West Midlands rail franchise.

Government announces invitation to tender for West Midlands rail franchise

The Government has announced plans to improve journeys and provide a host of extra services and benefits for passengers within the next West Midlands rail franchise.

Bidders for the new franchise will be required to deliver hundreds of extra services, new ticketing options and increased capacity. The publication of the invitation to tender details the minimum level of improvements bidders hoping to secure the next franchise will need to include in their detailed proposals.

The next West Midlands rail franchise will deliver:

  • Extra capacity for 20,000 additional passengers to travel into London and Birmingham at peak times through the introduction of longer trains
  • 300 extra Sunday services across the franchise by 2021, including 50 new services in each direction between Birmingham and Longbridge and the same between Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield
  • More evening services from Birmingham to Lichfield City, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Whitlocks End and Dorridge and later Saturday last services from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Bromsgrove and Liverpool
  • A new hourly service from Birmingham and Wolverhampton to Crewe via Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent
  • Free Wi-Fi on all main line services by the end of 2019
  • New ticket options for part time travellers which provide better value options for customers who travel fewer than 5 days a week
  • New direct peak time services between Walsall and London

The winning bidder will also be required to provide at least 60 apprenticeships as part of the new franchise.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “We are making the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era and today marks a key step forward in giving passengers better journeys across the West Midlands and beyond.

“This franchise serves both commuters and long distance passengers and these benefits will deliver extra and smoother journeys for customers using these services.”

The franchise is currently operated by London Midland and covers a combination of commuting and long-distance services spanning the Midlands, south-east and north-west as well as services to London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street.

Rail devolution

West Midlands Rail Ltd (WMR), which has been set up by the 14 Metropolitan, Shire and Unitary authorities from across the wider West Midlands, has worked alongside the Department for Transport (DfT) to design, specify and manage the new franchise.

“It is the first time the West Midlands has had this level of involvement in shaping what a train company has to deliver for local passengers”

Commenting on the upcoming franchise, Councillor Mark Winnington, WMR Chair 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 West Midlands 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 Department for Transport we have set out a railway that brings real benefits not only for passengers but also for local businesses, supporting economic growth and jobs.”

“Disappointing that the Government has stopped short of specifying that the franchisee for West Midlands rail should ensure part-time commuters enjoy equal discounts”

Reacting to the Government’s invitation to tender for the West Midlands rail franchise, Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Passengers will hope to see benefit from proposals to introduce new Sunday and evening services, as well as to give local authorities more involvement which should strengthen local accountability and control. But it is disappointing that the Government has stopped short of specifying that the franchisee for West Midlands rail should ensure part-time commuters enjoy equal discounts to those who travel five days a week.

“Three quarters of part-time workers are women. Introducing ticketing options for people who travel less than five days a week is a start, but until the discounts for people traveling part-time are equivalent to those enjoyed by full-time workers, women and those with caring responsibilities are still faced with the double whammy of lower pay and higher commuting costs.

“With so many passengers facing overcrowding, rail companies should be rewarding people who choose to work flexibly, work from home and free up space on peak time trains. Instead, part-time commuters are penalised. We need to see an end to the current discriminatory ticketing system, and the Government has yet again missed an opportunity to do so today.”

Shortlisted bidders

The shortlisted bidders for the franchise are:

  • London and West Midlands Railway Limited, a subsidiary of Govia Limited (a joint venture between Keolis and Go-Ahead Group)
  • West Midlands Trains Limited, currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Group Limited with East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co Limited as minority partners

The Government has encouraged bidders to include proposals for additional benefits other than those stated above. West Midlands rail franchise bids must be submitted by 29 November 2016, with the new operator planned to take over the franchise in October 2017.

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