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East Midlands Railway

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Transport officials have chosen Abellio to run the next East Midlands franchise. 

Beginning on August 18 under the name ‘East Midlands Railway’, the new operator will invest £600 million in improving stations and trains over the course of eight years. 

The entire intercity fleet of HSTs and Meridians, as well as the entire regional fleet of Sprinters, is set to be replaced, with the first of the new trains entering service by April 2022.  

Almost £17 million will be spent upgrading stations – including £6.9 million for accessibility improvements and the introduction of ticket buying facilities at all stations. 

Plans also include more flexible and convenient smart ticketing, free wifi onboard all services, enhanced delay repay compensation, the creation of four new community rail partnerships and the introduction of 30 ‘pre-apprenticeships’ each year. 

A boost to service frequency will mean that more trains will operate on Sundays and, on weekdays, services will start earlier in the morning and end later in the evening.

A greener railway

Announcing Abellio as the successful bidder, transport secretary Chris Grayling told parliament that the East Midlands Railway “will be at the forefront of the government’s commitment to deliver a cleaner, greener rail network.”

A trial of hydrogen fuel-cell trains on the Midland main line and “zero-carbon pilots” at six stations along the route sit at the heart of these plans. 

While these projects were welcomed by transport body Midlands Connect, it did not see these plans as replacing electrification. 

The Midland main line electrification programme north of Kettering and Corby was cancelled in July 2017, which resultantly led to the East Midlands franchise competition process being restarted.

Midlands Connect chairman Sir John Peace said: “We fully support the move towards a cleaner, greener rail network and we welcome plans to trial hydrogen fuel cell trains on the Midland main line.  

“We will also continue to make the case for the electrification of the [Midland main line] beyond Market Harborough, to support Midlands Connect’s ambition for direct conventional compatible HS2 services between Leicester and Leeds and Nottingham and Leeds, via the East Midlands Hub at Toton.”

Rail Review

Elsewhere, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald was quick to point to the ongoing Rail Review and the potential impact it may have on the existing franchise system. A white paper from chair Keith Williams is not due until autumn and reform will not take place until 2020. 

Andy said: “How can Chris Grayling award Abellio the East Midlands rail franchise when the chair of his rail review has said the current system couldn’t continue, and rail operator Stagecoach has today said it isn’t fit for purpose?”

Grayling acknowledged the review and said that the government will be “guided by the approaches that deliver benefits to passengers and other rail users soonest”, which includes this franchise award.

He also provided updates on the South Eastern and West Coast franchises. With regards to South Eastern, a short-term agreement has been struck with Govia, extending its franchise up until November 10. This includes an option to extend it to April 2020. The West Coast Partnership franchise will be awarded in June.