Northern Rail promises North East commuters ‘transformational’ change to rail links
New Northern Rail franchisee will take the reins in April 2016 with plans to scrap older trains and introduce modern working environment
Business travellers using Northern Rail’s North East routes are set to enjoy a “transformational” change next year, the operator has pledged. The new Northern Rail franchisee is due to be announced any day by government and the operator’s commercial director, Richard Allan, has set out how the changes will bring new trains with free Wi-Fi to the region.
Three companies have bid for the franchise, which starts in April 2016 and lasts until 2025. It brings requirements to replace 30-year-old “pacer” trains on the network by 2019. Mr Allan said the North East rail network offered a lot of opportunity, and spoke of Northern Rail’s ambition to get more businesspeople using rail by creating a better on-board environment. He said: “We’ve had a lot of feedback from business travellers about the kind of environment that they need. The simple fact is, if we’re going to encourage more people to use rail, we have to make that time productive for them.
“That’s why there will be free high-speed Wi-Fi on all trains by the end of the decade, modern stations along the network and an altogether better customer experience.”
Northern Rail says pacer trains will be replaced by modern, smaller carriages with and more space per traveller. Mr Allan said there was scope to increase the frequency of services on routes such as the Middlesbrough to Newcastle line, but said this could not be guaranteed. He pointed to the example of the Northern Rail-managed Bishop Auckland to Saltburn service, which has moved from an hourly train to one every 30 minutes.
Together with the TransPennine franchise, Northern Rail will be managed by the Department for Transport’s new working group called Rail North. The body is comprised of representatives from 29 northern councils and combined authorities, and the Department for Transport, but has attracted criticism from RMT union which has questioned plans to cut train guards. Mr Allan said at least £30m will be spent on updates to the North East station network over the course of the franchise. Improvements are also likely to include integrated “smart” ticketing processes, whereby travellers can buy tickets online for different services.
Mr Allan explained: “We’ve already integrated the Nexus Pop Card on some of our services, and we plan to build on that.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to make ticketing work better for customers in the North East. The beauty of smart ticketing is that we can have a much more purposeful and relevant relationship with customers.
“We can collect data on passengers’ frequent journeys and purchases, and therefore communicate with them in a much more relevant way.”
Bidders for the Northern Rail franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited.
Northern Rail employs 5,000, around 350 of which are in the North East. It provides more than 2,500 services every day and serves a network of 15 million people across the North.
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