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FirstGroup awarded TransPennine Express franchise

FirstGroup is to be solely awarded the new TransPennine Express (TPE) franchise by the government, in a deal which delivers new fast trains on cross-border routes and extra services. 

Since 2004, FirstGroup has operated the franchise as majority partner with Keolis. But under the new deal it will operate independently. 

The new franchise starts on 1 April 2016 and is planned to run until at least 31 March 2023, with the option for a two-year extension at the DfT's discretion. 

Under the contract, FirstGroup – operating under the name First Trans Pennine Express Limited (FTPE) – will deliver £303m real NPV (net present value) in premium payments to the government over the core period, with 2017-18 marking the transition of this franchise from being a subsidised railway to one which delivers a premium to the taxpayer. 

The government has also today awarded the Northern Rail franchise to Arriva Rail North Limited

Franchises managed in the north 

The franchises will be jointly managed from Leeds by the Department for Transport and Rail North – which represents 29 local authorities across the north. 

As part of the deal, which will benefit from £500m investment during the first four years, FTPE will increase connections between the largest cities in the north and Scotland by 55% by 2019. 

In addition, 44 new state-of-the-art intercity trains – 220 new carriages – will be introduced by 2019. The fleet size will increase by two-thirds and all existing trains will be fully refurbished. 


A new, direct Liverpool to Glasgow service will run from December 2018, with new electric trains. And there will be additional services from Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh from December 2017. 

‘Exciting and ambitious’ plans 

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “First Trans Pennine Express Ltd will deliver exciting, ambitious plans that will make a real difference to customers, and – coupled with our commitment to push ahead with electrifying the vital TransPennine route – will help the region realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st century transport system. This is fantastic news for the North.” 

Earlier this year, McLoughlin ‘unpaused’ Midland Main Line and TransPennine electrification works, but announced that the projects would be delayed by years. 

Under recommendations from Sir Peter Hendy, Network Rail will work alongside the Department for Transport and Transport for the North to develop a new electrification plan of the TransPennine Line, with details considered to be an “improvement” on the previous plan. The upgrade is expected to provide capacity for six fast or semi-fast trains per hour, take up to 15 minutes off current journey times between Manchester and York and finish by 2022. 

FirstGroup beat competition from Stagecoach and a joint venture between former partner Keolis and Go-Ahead

And, under the new contract, there is a target to reduce delays and cancellations by 27%, underpinned by a new partnership agreement with Network Rail. 

‘Disciplined approach’ to the bid 

FirstGroup’s CEO Tim O’Toole said: “Our new TransPennine Express franchise will deliver faster and more frequent intercity train services between the North’s major towns and cities and we are excited to help the government achieve its vision for a Northern Powerhouse. 

“I am delighted that our disciplined approach to rail franchise bidding has given us this opportunity to continue to deliver ambitious improvements for TransPennine Express passengers and appropriate returns for our shareholders, at an acceptable level of risk." 

Other benefits for passengers 

As well as delivering new rolling stock and extra services, FTPE will move towards paperless ticketing via mobile, on all routes. This will help the ‘Enabling Smart in the North’ initiative, which will deliver integrated ticketing with local smart card schemes. 

There will also be discounted fares available for 16-18 year olds and jobseekers. And ‘Delay Repay’ will be introduced, meaning automatic compensation for registered customers. 

By summer 2017, FirstGroup will introduce free wi-fi on Anglo-Scottish services and at all stations. A year later, this will be available on all trains. And by April 2019 real-time passenger information screens will be on all trains. 

There are also plans to invest £18m in 19 stations across the franchise, extra car parking spaces will be delivered as will improved customer service facilities. 


David Sidebottom, passenger director of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers will be pleased to hear that they are a step closer to new franchises and all the certainty that brings. 

“They will especially welcome the confirmation of new trains, additional services and increased capacity responding to some of the most important priorities for improvement. Alongside this it is critical that issues with punctuality, information provision and staffing are addressed.” 

Following the announcement, and in accordance with usual procurement practice, there will be a standstill period of 10 days before the department will be in a position to enter into, and complete, the formal contractual documentation and make the award to Arriva Rail North Limited and First Trans Pennine Express Limited.

(Image: c. Alvey and Towers)


Andrew Gwilt   10/12/2015 at 08:59

With First Transpennine Express to be kept and Arriva taking over Northern Rail. I thought that Northern Rail and TPE will merge together to become a new train franchise as Northern Transpennine Railway as Arriva have won the contract. Plus the remaining Class 319's to be moved from Thameslink (GTR) to replace the Class 323's and the new Class 230's D-Trains that are currently being converted from former London Underground D-Stocks to replace the Class 142, Class 143 and Class 144 Pacer trains destined for scrap and Class 323's to be moved south to operate around the Birmingham areas as Class 319's will be used on other routes.

Huguenot   10/12/2015 at 11:13

Now that FTPE has retained the franchise, they need to pay urgent attention to overcrowding, given that FTPE had 3 out of the 10 most overcrowded trains in Britain in the last survey, including London. This cannot wait another 2 years or more. Is the TPE network in the new franchise the same as before? There was talk of cutting back the East Midlands service from Norwich to Nottingham or Sheffield and giving TPE all of the fast Liverpool-Manchester services via Warrington Central (they already have half of them), and linking up with the South TransPennine route via Sheffield and Doncaster.

R   14/12/2015 at 10:39

Using an illustration of a soon to be whisked away southwards Turbostar might be classed by us up here as a bit "unfortunate". A shiny, nearly new 350/4 may have been better!

RTM   14/12/2015 at 10:55

Fair point, R! Though for the record, we're "up here" too, our offices are in Manchester and our staff all live in the north-west.

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