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Abellio JV named winner of West Midlands rail franchise

The DfT has announced that West Midlands Trains Ltd, a joint venture between Abellio, East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co Ltd, has won the contract to operate the next West Midlands rail franchise.

Two train companies had been in the running for the West Midlands franchise after MTR Corporation West Midlands withdrew its bid last year.

The trains running only in the West Midlands area will be jointly managed by the DfT and West Midlands Rail (WMR), a consortium of 16 local councils. The new contract will start in December and last until March 2026.

Today’s announcement has also been backed by £1bn investment that will deliver 400 new carriages to be rolled out by 2021, and extra space for an additional 85,000 passengers on rush hour services in Birmingham and London. This includes investment in 100 new carriages on the Cross City line and 80 new carriages for the Snow Hill line. Passengers on London services will benefit from 225 new carriages, with all the others being completely refurbished.

The franchise covers services across the West Midlands and also services to London Euston to Crewe and from Liverpool to Birmingham.

“This is great news for passengers using West Midlands services – with new trains, more space, more regular services and easier access for disabled people,” said Chris Grayling, the transport secretary.

“We are improving the whole travelling experience with live train crowding information, compensation for people delayed by 15 minutes or more, smart ticketing and better value tickets for part-time workers. This shows we are delivering on our commitment to build a railway that works for everyone.”

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, hailed the announcement as “a real game changer” for transport in the area.

“We want to see a new golden era for our local trains and today’s announcement is an important step towards that,” he said. “Having the ability to use our local knowledge and understanding to shape what West Midlands Trains will deliver for passengers and businesses has been a real game changer.”

For the first time, passengers will also be entitled to 25% compensation if their train is delayed by more than 15 minutes thanks to the new investment.  Around £60m will be invested on station improvements across the franchise area, including 1,000 new car park spaces and refurbished waiting rooms. On top of this, more than £70m will be invested in new and existing depots to improve rolling stock reliability.

From December 2018, more trains will run between Birmingham and Shrewsbury with two services per hour, there will be a regular two train per hour service between Birmingham and Rugeley via the Chase Line, and a new direct hourly service between Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent.

Previous operator London Midland, owned by Govia, the partnership between the Go-Ahead Group and Keolis, congratulated West Midlands Trains Ltd for winning the contract, saying that continued long-term investment can now be made in the region’s rail network.

“The new franchise will bring much welcomed investment in new services and extra capacity across the network,” said managing director Patrick Verwer. “We congratulate the consortium on winning the franchise.

“Over the coming months our focus will remain on delivering the best possible service to our passengers, each day and every day. This approach is already producing high levels of customer satisfaction.”

Go-Ahead ‘disappointed’ at decision

Of course, not everyone was happy with the news. The Go-Ahead group said it was disappointed that its joint venture with Keolis had been unsuccessful in its bid to run the franchise.

“London Midland and its people have been part of our group’s rail business for ten years,” Go-Ahead CEO David Brown stated. “In that time, we have delivered significant improvements across the entire network which have seen London Midland transformed into an award-winning franchise with high levels of employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

“I would like to thank everyone involved in London Midland for their hard work and contribution to the company’s successes.”

Passenger champion Transport Focus said it was positive that the new franchise was putting passengers’ interests at heart with the investment being delivered alongside the franchise award.

“It is good news that Delay Repay compensation will kick in at 15 minutes (rather than 30) and better ticket deals for part-time workers to help improve value for money,” said David Sidebottom, Transport Focus director.

“We’ll be watching for closer partnership working between track and train carefully to check they do deliver on promises to improve performance.

“Passengers across this network, which stretches across the North West, Midlands and London, told us that their key priorities for improvement are better value for money services and the ability to get a seat on frequent, punctual services. We pressed for these passenger issues to be addressed in the new franchise.”

Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, one of the partners of the West Midlands Trains Ltd bid, said: “We are delighted to have been announced as the winning bidder for the West Midlands franchise, driving growth in one of the most exciting regions in the country.

“We will be investing nearly £1bn into the network, delivering new trains, better stations and a whole host of other benefits for passengers.”

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Andrew Gwilt   10/08/2017 at 11:33

Good on Abellio+JR East & Mitsui for winning the bid to take over the West Midlands rail franchise from December. Also that would mean parts of the Chase Line is to be electrified so that electric multiple unit trains (Class 323's/Class 350's) will be operated on between Birmingham New Street-Walsall and Rugley Trent Valley once the electrification is finished.

Foaming Stoat   10/08/2017 at 11:57

405 new vehicles or thereabouts, with probably 320 or so going back to the leasing companies. So it's goodbye to the 150s, 153s and 319s, auf viedersehen to the 323 fleet, an uncertain local future for the early Turbostars and a question mark surely hangs over the 350/2s.

J, Leicester   10/08/2017 at 14:08

I do hope that absolutely vile proposed livery gets revised. It might possibly be the single worst I've yet seen, concept or otherwise. It makes First's "Barbie" colours look like Monet. Hideous.

Alan Mitchell   10/08/2017 at 16:01

The line between Bletchley and Bedford. What will the new company be from Decenber

James Miller   10/08/2017 at 20:36

Redditch to Lichfield takes 83 minutes with 22 stops. I reckon an Aventra or similar could do it in under the hour. A five-car Aventra holds nearly 800 as opposed to 500 in two three-car 323s. Birmingham will have trains everywhere. Birmingham is getting battery trams. Will the West Midlands get battery trains? Bromsgrove to Worcester is just 14 miles and Nuneaton to Leamington is just 19. At least the Lickey Incline is electrified.

Turbostar   13/08/2017 at 13:09

Horrible livery, front looks like a Tellytubby face.

Steveb   13/08/2017 at 18:13

If JR East has a strong influence, will train drivers wear white gloves and point to a cab clock at precisely the time of departure? It may be a bit of theatre, but the Japanese trains do tend to run to time.

Manchester Mike   15/08/2017 at 23:46

That livery is abysmal, looks like Thomas the Tank Engine in drag.

Michael Still   03/09/2017 at 21:41

with the new franchise will we get a Kings Langley Parkway station for travellers on the M1/M25 to continue in & out of London.

Scott Williamson   19/09/2017 at 09:37

Dear sir or madam I look forward to seeing the new trains on Shrewsbury to Birmingham line. There is a 21.47 Shrewsbury to Albrighton where I live and not one again till 23.26 can we have a train about 22.30 please tif possible.

Scott Williamson   27/09/2017 at 09:59

Dear sir or madam we have got a train from Birmingham to Albrighton at 22.05 and not another one till 23.35 could we have something in between thanks Scott Williamson.

Muhib Al-Jaffri   12/12/2017 at 19:21

The livery has improved and let's compare the two turns of operators. London Midland has disappointed me in the past where I couldn't catch it because of a completely different timetable on Saturdays. However when I did manage to catch it once, the train was delayed and it still wasn't a proper, 60MPH ride! I failed twice. However I do appreciate the fact that both companies have good quality doors, perfect for filming for a humble youtube video!

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