Posted 1st April 2016 | 26 Comments

New start for north as franchises are launched

TWO new passenger rail franchises are being launched in Manchester today, in a ceremony which marks the biggest change for train services in the north of England for more than a decade. 

Arriva has taken over Northern from Abellio and Serco, while FirstGroup has taken sole charge of Transpennine Express, having run the previous franchise in partnership with Keolis.

Both the new contracts are groundbreaking in various ways. The previous Northern franchise was let with no provision for growth in demand, and as this forecast proved to be wrong its trains have become increasingly overcrowded. The new Arriva contract includes 98 new trains to be built by CAF, which should allow the withdrawal of the unpopular Pacer fleets within the next three years or so.

FirstGroup has also just signed a contract for 19 new trains for Transpennine Express, which will be built by Hitachi. More are set to follow, bringing the total of new trains to 44. First said the procurement 'is expected to be finalised soon'.

The franchises mark a major step in devolution of railways to the English regions, because they are being managed jointly by the Department for Transport and Rail North Limited, which is a consortium of 29 local authorities.

The government said the additional rolling stock will provide the equivalent of 40,000 extra seats a day, while facilities will also be upgraded at hundreds of stations.

Rail minister Andrew Jones said: "Arriva Rail North and First Transpennine Express have ambitious plans to deliver a world class rail service that will make a real difference to customers, bringing faster and more frequent services and connecting up northern cities and towns.

"Our new joint management of the franchises with Rail North, coupled with our commitment to spend a record £13 billion on transport in the North by 2020, will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life and help the region to realise its full economic potential."

However, unions fear that jobs will be at risk if some routes lose their conductor guards by being converted to driver only operation. They are also critical of the fact that the Northern contract has been awarded to Arriva, a formerly English group which is now a subsidiary of the state-owned German operator Deutsche Bahn.

Protests have already been staged in the north, and today's launch in Manchester is being met by more demonstrations.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This rotten Tory government, opposed to British public ownership of our railways, have now awarded the Northern franchise to the German state railway company giving them the opportunity to bleed away millions in profits to subsidise their domestic operations.

"Since 2007 Northern Rail has sucked passengers dry to pay £179 million in dividends to the previous franchise owners Serco and the Dutch state railway.

“That is nothing short of a national scandal and according to Rail North’s own estimates passenger demand for the North’s railway will soar by 50 per cent over the next fifteen years opening the door to even greater profiteering while at the same time threatening to axe safety-critical guards from 50 per cent of the Northern routes."

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • alan boys, preston

    i think that northan rail should take all the 185 units of transpennines trains of first group because they have northan rail coulors on the bottom of the trains

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    The new Class 185 liveries are pretty stylish, even if this is not what passengers want from a new franchise. I couldn't have picked a more fashionably elegant livery for the fleet myself, and I hope passengers will appreciate the new look as the old liveries were getting rather dated.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    What I would really like to see during the duration of the franchises is improvement works to my hometown station, Huddersfield. The platforms are in need of extending particularly the bay platforms 2, 5 and 6. Platform 5 is so short, not even a 3-car 144 can fit into it, and a new platform facing the Leeds direction wouldn't go amiss. It's been suggested but talks on that plan have been quiet for quite some time.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I know where Lee is coming from by saying not to get excited over the proposals. Yes, we have had empty promises time after time, but I think we're actually going to see action being taken instead of hearing words.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    The new order for stock for the new Northern franchise is going to be a step into paradise: air conditioning, tables, power sockets, free Wi-Fi. Oh, and going by the look of the artist impression of the interior inclusion of first class accommodation. You won't be living in the '80s and '90s on these trains and more crucially: no screeching noise from the wheels, bouncing, smelly and unhygienic toilets, and leaky windows and roofs.

  • dave barry, wallasey

    Tilting trains only work using tilt on prepared trackwork. They need fixed signalling systems to be installed at great expense as on the West Coast .Current signalling systems limit the capability of any train on the Manchester Leeds line simply because of signal sighting problems for drivers.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I don't think tilting trains would be able to run on the TransPennine route without the required infrastructure. We're undoubtedly going to see infrastructure upgrades being implemented as we get close to the electrification of the line, but I don't think tilting trains will operate on the upgraded route.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I saw the artist impresseion that you're referring to David, and by the looks of it, it's entirely possible that the new CAF trains may have first class as leather seats are in the artist's impression.

  • Lee, Manchester

    Why get so excited about these two 'new' franchises? It is still the same old trains operated by the same staff, managed by the same indifferent managers, the only thing that has changed are the logos and the franchise owners and in the case of Transpennine, First are still in charge. As a commuter I have heard these and similar claims before from 'new' operators on these services but in practice any changes that do come seem to take an age to appear (we still have to wait three years for new rolling stock and that is nothing to do with Northern as the government is procuring it to be operated by the TOC) and electrification has all but ground to a halt. I don't want to hear more sound bites and see more snappy liveries and logos, just deliver the much promised improvements on time and budget!

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    A question - not directly associated with this article, but indirectly in view of the artist's impressions of the new TransPennine Express which have been published.

    Will the new trains for the north be the first ones approved to operate without yellow ends/warning panels?

    Or do the IEPs and their derivatives also meet the requirements for not requiring yellow ends as well?

    Totally irrelevant, but the check code I've been asked to insert to show I'm not a robot is 222; no doubt this will mean something to older readers (and for younger ones, the HQ of the British Railways Board was at 222 Marylebone Road, and it was often just referred to as '222' (amongst others, such as the Kremlin!)

  • John Gilbert, Cradley, Herefordshire

    Another point reqarding the trains for Transpennine - whether electric or bi-mode; they should be Pendolinos in order to deal effortlessly with the curves on the Pennine lines. That is, after all, what Pendolinos were built to do.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    Much now rests on these new franchises to deliver a step change in rail's offer to the northern market. The introduction of the new rolling stock fleets should enable both operators to offer quality inter urban services between the principle towns & cities in the region. But while the Pacers are set to be displaced let it not be forgotten that much of the existing rolling stock still has a long term future meeting the region's core transport demands be it the daily commute or less demanding rural routes. With refurbishment & where appropriate technical upgrades the age of rolling stock is irrelevant.

    Apart from new rolling stock and service enhancements the challenge for the new operators, together with Transport for the North, is to ensure that rail is to the fore in technological advances in ticketing to gain market advantage in being an open & accessible mode of transport. As TfL have shown through Oyster & now contactless payment ease of access to the system is a sure fire way of boosting use & modal share.

  • claydon william, Norwich, Norfolk

    If you're a shareholder or have a pension, you probably do own things of 'national importance'.......and since when has anything nationally owned earned any money ? That's the point; they need massive tax pounds to keep them going.

    If there's one thing I've learned in my life; is that governments of any colour are pretty useless at running anything; and even when they're run pretty well, they usually cost a fortune. Publically-owned businesses become little more than 'jobs-clubs'; rather than functional business achieving success for their shareholders through providing excellent customer services.

  • Dave, Durham

    Correction to your edit dear editor.

    TPE have so far only confirmed 19 of the 44 trains they are expected to order. these are 5 car bi-mode AT300's scheduled for December 2018. There are of course more to come....

    [It is quite true that TPE announced confirmed contract signature for only 19 trains on 31 March, and we have got slightly ahead of ourselves -- so thank you for the clarification. However, the procurement of the others 'is expected to be finalised soon'. You read it first in Railnews ... --Editor.]

  • John Gilbert, Cradley, Herefordshire

    The new CAF trains for the north are sorely needed, but the DMUs should undoubtedly be built as bi-modes not straight diesels as so many lines there are to be electrified - some time!!. Let's have some common sense - PLEASE!!

  • claydon william, Norwich, Norfolk

    It's always good to hear from such a well informed source as Mick Cash offering his view on how to run a modern railway..... we all remember just how fantastic BR was in so many ways Mick.

    I shouldn't complain too much Mick; your members are now some of the best paid railway staff on the planet, and the passengers are paying for this largesse not the taxpayer.........

    If the Leeds-Manchester market is so important as to be the main factor in launching billions of pounds of investment in HS3, I eagerly await the new Leeds-Manchester non-stop super-fast services.......

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    It really will be interesting to see how the Hitachi IEP derivatives meld with trans-Pennine traffic flows; I hope I'm wrong, but I fear 26m long shells with end doors are totally unsuitable for a service between Manchester and Leeds, but good for Manchester - Scotland and Leeds - Newcastle..

    By contrast, I think Arriva are procuring trains much better suited to the services they will work; larger door openings, placed approximately at the 1/3 and 2/3 positions, are fine for most of the services on which they will operate.

    Does anyone know if Northern will be reintroducing first class? At least one artist impression published shows 1+2 seating.

  • Andrew Mitchell, Harrogate

    when we will ever own anything of national importance. Any success, i.e. money, will disappear out of the country from foreign investment, why don't we want to keep that money here. If it goes pear shaped they will shrug their shoulders and walk away, example TATA steel. We have truly just given up even trying. This news article is about cherry picking from the carcass of what is left of another UK institution. Who actually thinks it is good for us not to own our own water, electricity, steel, trains and soon even the land registry.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I agree with Jack I am a big fan of 333s, but the fleet will be 17 years old next year having been built in 2000 (well, I think that was the year), and new trains are always a necessity as the age of fleets in the north is speedily increasing. Refreshed interiors can bring the look of an old train back to modern standards, but age still has to be considered.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Best of luck to the new franchises they're going to need it with the expectations of passengers being high, and I do mean high.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I hope the guards which presently operate the doors on Arriva Rail North services aren't axed in favour of driver operation. Safety wouldn't be guaranteed in this instance and this plan ought to be ditched. Checking tickets is important as we do want to clamp down on fare-evading passengers, but so is safety.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    This contract for freshly-built trains for TransPennine Express is approving. The current Class 185 sets just aren't long enough for the passengers loads between Leeds City Station and Manchester Piccadillly/Victoria. I've heard that they've got a new paint job and that they're also to receive an interior upgrade, but their 3-car formations just aren't suitable for carrying the heavy traffic between the north's two greatest employment centres. I wonder if these new 5-car sets will be doubled up at peak times on some diagrams?

  • Jack, Leeds

    The promises all sound very nice, but let's see if they can stick to their word. Honestly, I think the CAF Civity trains look like a downgrade from the Class 333 EMU's, but they are certainly better than the outdated pacers, which are over 30 years old now, and it won't be long until the Class 333's are 20 years old. The Class 333's have held up well, but I think more modern replacements are in order.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Best of luck to them they're going to need it with the high expectations of passengers in the north.

  • Bill D, Millom

    Mr. Cash would do well to remember what provides his members' earnings - that is fare paying passengers. Passengers require a Driver to operate the train and this can include door operation. The Guard/Conductor's main function is revenue protection. The Driver is not doing anything else whilst the doors are open so closing them is not a job that the guard must carry out. Similarly, whilst the train is running normally, the Conductor has no safety function. In times of disruption of the normal operation of the train, the conductor will not be carrying out revenue protection duties and so can perform a safety function if needed. In these days of direct communication between Driver (or train) and Signaller, if anything untoward should happen, the signaller should be 'on it'!

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    1) I would take Mick Cash more seriously if he didn't have a track record of crying wolf. I seem to remember two years ago he was claiming that services were definitely going to be cut.

    2) On a more practical note, does anyone understand how Transpennine's plans are going to work? They're meant to be extending the MIA-York service to Newcastle from Dec 2017, but they're not due to have new rolling stock until 2018. I know VTEC managed something similar from LKX-EDB by using their rolling stock more efficiently, but I thought the Transpennine trains were already stretched to the limit. Anyone know?