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First TransPennine Express receive direct award to run franchise an extra year

The Department for Transport has reached an agreement with First TransPennine Express to extend its contract another year before the start of the next franchise.

FTPE, currently operated jointly by First Group and Keolis, will now run services until April 2016, bringing its end date in line with the Northern franchise. There is also an optional extension period of up to 10 months.

As part of the new direct award FTPE has agreed to institute a series of improvements to its services. Free wi-fi is to be introduced at all major TransPennine stations, while smart enabled ticket machines and gates are to be installed at Huddersfield station, allowing the use of West Yorkshire’s smart ‘mcard’.

Improvements will also be made to the existing train fleet to improve reliability and FTPE has promised to invest in new customer information facilities as well as put staff through further customer service training.

Rail minister Claire Perry said: “We have ambitious plans for rail across the north of England, with more than £1bn being invested in the region’s railways.

“We have set out how we will transform rail services across the north over the next few years, but we are determined that passengers shouldn’t have to wait to see much-needed improvements. This agreement with First TransPennine Express will make a real difference to passengers, paving the way for the next franchise to further develop a railway the north of England is proud of.”

The current franchise began its operations in 2004 and the original end date for the deal was 31 March 2015. Since the beginning of its contract, passenger numbers have doubled from 13 million to 26 million.

First Group chief executive Tim O'Toole said: "We have an excellent track record at First TransPennine Express, which provides vital connections between key cities in the North of England and Scotland.

“Since the franchise began, our experienced team have worked hard to introduce brand new trains, refurbished stations, increased frequency and improved journey times. As a result the service is more popular than ever, now carrying 26 million passengers a year compared to 13 million in 2004.

“Today's agreement with the Department for Transport provides continuity and consistency for First TransPennine Express passengers over the next year, as we focus on continuing to deliver great customer service and introducing improvements ahead of submitting our bid for the new franchise later in the spring.”

Last month, the government set out the improvements it expects the next operator of the TransPennine Express franchise to deliver, through publication of the invitations to tender.

Three operators have been shortlisted to run the next franchise, and the competition will see the two current joint operators compete against each other as First Group go up against a joint bid from Keolis and Go-Ahead, with Stagecoach rounding out the list.

(Image source: Michael Fox)

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