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c2c starts new 15-year Essex Thameside franchise

The new 15-year Essex Thameside franchise has started this week, with incumbent operator c2c continuing to operate the rail service until 2029. 

In June this year, the Department for Transport made the Essex Thameside franchise announcement where c2c, owned by National Express since 2000, committed to rolling out a host of passenger benefits costing around £160m. 

From the start of the new franchise local rail passengers can now benefit from free wi-fi, new discounted fares and new ways to buy tickets. 

c2c and its predecessor companies have been running the franchise since 1996. 

It says there is now free wi-fi at stations for all its passengers, delivered by major internet provider Level 3. In future c2c will extend the wi-fi service to operate on board trains too. 

In addition, a new app called “c2c Live” provides a one-stop-shop for c2c passengers with everything from personalised journey information to buying tickets, and even paying for car parking. Developed with IBM, this is the first app made by a UK rail company to include nationwide door-to-door public transport journey planning, enabling users to plan a route for any journey anywhere in the UK. 

Julian Drury, managing director at c2c, said: “Our focus in this new franchise is to improve the experience for passengers whenever they are using c2c. We’re aiming to excel in this area, and build our reputation as a high-quality service as well as a punctual and reliable train operator. 

“This is also a chance to say thank you to our passengers for all their support over the last decade. I hope our passengers will be as excited as we are by all the new improvements we’re going to introduce over the next few years.” 

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(Rail minister Claire Perry with c2c managing director Julian Drury and the new c2c Live app)

A new way to pay for travel has also been introduced, with c2c and Barclaycard launching a pilot of the contactless c2c bPay band which allows passengers to pay for their travel without buying a separate ticket. 

bPay is a new payment wristband that is linked to any Visa or MasterCard debit or credit card to make contactless payments of £20 and under. Passengers from Grays, Upminster and Barking will be able to apply for their bPay band, and use it to pay for their travel into central London on c2c, plus any onward journey on the Tube or London buses. 

Also, the new c2c Smart card allows c2c season ticket holders to switch from paper tickets to an Oyster-style tap-and-go smartcard ticket they can use anywhere on the c2c route. The operator added that there is also up to 40% discount on off-peak travel when passengers buy their tickets online in advance. In the future c2c will also introduce flexible season tickets, which will reward commuters when they choose to travel off-peak. 

Other benefits of the new 15-year franchise, which will be introduced in coming years, include new trains with 68 extra carriages from 2019, and a significant upgrade for the existing fleet; £33m investment in stations; a commitment to staff every station from the first train until the last service; a new timetable providing extra services and better connections; and a new Passenger Charter which improves the consumer rights of passengers. 

Rail minister Claire Perry said: “Passengers deserve the best from our railways, and they will see real benefits from this franchise, with new and improved trains and extra services.  The technology improvements that I have seen today will also make planning journeys and buying tickets easier than before. 

“We are also investing record amounts in improving and maintaining the national network, with more than £38bn being spent over the next five years as part of our long-term economic plan to build a world-class railway.” 

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(Top image: c. Joshua Brown) 

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