Posted 18th October 2016 | 4 Comments

'Transformative' Greater Anglia franchise starts

A NEW nine-year franchise has been launched for the East of England, under the title of Greater Anglia.

The operator is Abellio, which has run two short contracts in the region since 2012, when it replaced National Express.

A new 'accord' between the franchise and Network Rail has also been announced, under which both sides have undertaken to work together at a practical level to improve infrastructure.

The new deal includes the replacement of Greater Anglia's existing fleets by new trains within the next three to four years. No franchise involving complete fleet replacement has been awarded since the 1990s, when some first-generation contracts such as Virgin West Coast, Virgin CrossCountry and LTS (later c2c) were signed.

In all, the new fleets will consist of 1,043 vehicles, of which 660 will be built by Bombardier in Derby and 383 by Stadler of Switzerland. They will replace 937 vehicles in service now which include Class 153 and 170 diesel multiple units, Class 315 and 360 electric multiple units and hauled Mk3 coaches. The trains will be maintained at the existing depots, including Crown Point at Norwich, and also at a new depot at Manningtree which is to be built on a former industrial site alongside the main line.

GA managing director Jamie Burles said their bid to replace all trains had been ambitious, but had been welcomed by the Department for Transport.

He continued: "We have a huge programme of improvements planned for trains, stations, timetables, journey times, ticketing, performance and wider customer service standards. Today really is the start of a period of major investment and improvement to upgrade services for customers and communities across the region.”

One major target is to achieve the ambitions of the 'Norwich in 90' campaign, and also provide 60 minute journey times between London and Ipswich.

Before the new trains start arriving, other improvements will include 72 additional vehicles from next year for the Great Eastern and West Anglia routes, free wi-fi, automatic delay repay compensation for season ticket holders and advance ticket holders from early in 2017, ticket vending machines at every station, new customer information screens and help points at every station, at least 1,800 additional car parking spaces and 4,000 extra cycle parking places at stations, a refresh and deep clean for all stations, 'significant investment' in reliability modifications and interior refreshes for the existing fleet of trains. There will also be more investment in customer service and the Community Rail Partnerships in East Anglia.

Stakeholders have welcomed the 'new dawn', as it is being described. Councillor Guy McGregor, of Suffolk County Council, told an audience in Ipswich that the county council and other bodies had failed to make the case for improvements sufficiently in 2011, shortly before the first Abellio franchise was awarded.

He continued: "After the disappointment of the previous franchise process in 2011, Suffolk County Council was determined to lobby for an improved franchise the next time. Abellio’s managing director at the time gave us sound advice and based on this, the lobbying started and the results are here in the new franchise plans for us all to appreciate today.”

There was also good news for Community Railways, which will receive additional investment. Ian Dinmore, who chairs the Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnership, said: "The Bittern and Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnerships recognise the good work done so far by Abellio. We now look forward to helping all Community Rail stakeholders take forward the Community Rail principle, through the new longer franchise, to deliver improvements to the Sheringham, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth railways. By setting this high aspiration we aim to increase the popularity of rural rail travel attracting new custom to protect the future of the rural routes in East Anglia."

Reader Comments:

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

  • Robert Palmer, Norwich

    I seem to recall that one of the first things that Abellio did when they took over the franchise was to return several multiple units to the ROSCO, so 72 additional vehicles presumably returns them to the status quo!

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    One does wonder what effect BREXIT and associated issues like fall in the value of the pound will have on this and other major orders for rolling stock which will be built in other countries. These orders might just be in time to qualify for single market status but if we are not to remain in the single market the question of when the cut off comes will arise ?

    As for upgrade of the GER then with Network Rail back in the public sector perhaps it time the Highways Agency and Network Rail formed a joint body to look at A12/ GER corridor where both run beside each other over long distances to look at developing a wider corridor which could allow extra lanes and tracks by using system where a new section of road could be built where railway could be relocated then rebuild railways etc etc with final result being 3/4 track railway and additional lanes on A12.

    [The single market is largely irrelevant, except perhaps in the case of some components. The foreign construction for this new contract will be carried out by Stadler of Switzerland. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. Bombardier, although it will build its share of the new trains for GA in Derby, is a Canadian company -- again, outside the EU.--Editor]

  • Douglas, Edinburgh

    Other than the introduction of a new fleet of Bombardier Aventra EMU's and Stadler FLIRT DMU's surely the most exciting thing here are the controlled emission toilets and an end to the 'urine mist' that's been the scourge of Network Rail over the years in that area :)

  • James Miller, Hackney

    I live in Hackney and travel on Greater Anglia regularly to Ipswich, where I am a season ticket holder at Portman Road.

    The service for perhaps the last four-five years has been very dodgy at weekends, as the railway is constantly being rebuilt, but that is not down to Abellio.

    As someone, who spent his working life in project management, Network Rail could do much better!

    If Abellio deliver their promises, it should be a lot better.

    I do wonder though, if they decided to offer what they did after seeing what happened to the Lea Valley Lines, after their takeover by London Overground. Everything is brighter and cleaner and generally the passengers and staff seem happier, even if the trains are just 315s with a makeover.

    If nothing else, it proves that you can't manage a suburban network over 150 miles away from head office, when you have problems closer to home.

    A recent visit to Ludlow and Shrewsbury found a similar out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem.

    I'm certainly looking forward to flirting on Greater Anglia.