Transport User Voice – You and your train company September 2017

31 August 2017

West Midlands franchise award

In August the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that the new West Midlands franchise would be awarded to West Midlands Trains Ltd, a joint venture of Abellio, Japan East Railway Company, and Mitsui & Co Ltd.

We worked closely with the DfT in shaping the customer experience elements of the specification for the franchise, and with bidders, to ensure that the passenger voice was recognised in their plans.

The franchise will be run in two separable business units; one dealing more with local journeys within the West Midlands and the other with longer journeys on the West Coast Main Line. West Midlands Rail (a partnership of local authorities) will lead the contract management of the services in the West Midlands business unit, to be known as West Midlands Railway. This is to ensure the new franchise will be responsive to regional needs.

Key benefits of the new franchise will include:

  • 100 new carriages on the Cross City line in Birmingham, and a further 80 for the Snow Hill line. The new Cross City Line carriages will offer metro-style passenger facilities, just like on the London Overground, with increased space to carry more passengers and wider doors.
  • 20,000 extra seats for rush hour passengers in Birmingham, and 10,000 for people in London. On top of this, there will be standing room for 50,000 passengers in Birmingham in the metro-style carriages referred to above.
  • delay-repay compensation after 15 minutes
  • free Wi-Fi will also be available on all main line trains by the end of December 2019
  • more accessible services with a reduction in the period of prior notice required for passenger assist, down from 24 hours to 12 hours in January 2020 and reduced further to 4 hours in January 2021
  • more than £60m invested on station improvements which will deliver over 1,000 new car park spaces, over 2,500 cycle parking spaces, a cycle hire scheme trial, new and refurbished waiting rooms, and more seats at stations.

The new franchise will run from 10 December 2017 until March 2026.

Responding to news of the award, Anthony Smith, Transport Focus’s chief executive, said:

“Abellio will need to work hard during this new franchise to deliver on its bold promises. Passengers will welcome the much-needed new trains, automatic delay compensation and the strong emphasis on punctuality. Part-time commuters will keenly await the introduction of new types of tickets next autumn.”

“In our last survey 77 per cent of Abellio’s passengers were satisfied overall with their service, with only 36 per cent satisfied with value for money. We’ll be watching closely to see how this ambitious plan is delivered.”

South Western commences

On the 20 August, South Western Railway (SWR), a joint venture between First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR, took over the operation of the South Western franchise from South West Trains, which was run by Stagecoach. It will run for seven years.

Passengers using trains on the South West network told us their main priorities for a new operator are: boosting reliability and more space to sit and stand in some comfort. They also want to see a better on train experience, stations modernised and improved information. We included these aspirations in our work with the Department for Transport when working on the franchise outline, when talking to the bidders and hope to see the passenger voice strongly built into the new franchise.

Transport Focus is looking closely at the winning bid to see how these ambitious proposals will deliver for passengers. New trains, more services, smarter ticketing including flexible season tickets and lots of other promised improvements. We are looking forward to working closely with First MTR as it delivers these enhancements, emphasising this must be in a way that does not cause undue shorter term disruption.

Passengers will be pleased to also see the introduction of boosted compensation through Delay Repay triggers being set at the lower level of 15 minutes – a big step in the right direction in building trust with passengers.

East Midlands franchise consultation events underway

The DfT is running a consultation to seek views on the future of the East Midlands rail franchise. A number of public events are being held across the network, the details of which are listed on the DfT website alongside further information about the consultation and how to respond here. The deadline for responses is Wednesday 11 October.

We are playing an active role in the consultation events, setting out current East Midlands Trains passengers’ experiences and their aspirations for the new franchise. We will be submitting and publishing a full response to the consultation based on our research into what passengers want.

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