Crewe – Newark and Matlock – Norwich in plan
ABELLIO WAS confirmed as the new operator of the East Midlands franchise on 9 May, following the conclusion of the standstill period. The Department for Transport had announced its intention to award the contract on 10 April. The new franchise is set to begin on 18 August, running for eight years with the option of a two-year extension.
Services under the new franchise will be operated under the name East Midlands Railway.
The company promises investment of £600 million, including replacement of every train across the franchise. A fleet of new bi-mode trains will be ordered for inter-city services, with Abellio planning to introduce the fleet by December 2022 following testing beginning in 2021.
A dedicated fleet of electric trains will be introduced for services from Corby to London from December 2020, once electrification work has been completed. A timetable change on the Midland main line is planned for December 2020 with the start of the electric service to Corby, including faster journey times. Abellio intends to retain the limited extensions of services north of Sheffield, currently a function of EMT’s HSTs being based at Neville Hill depot in Leeds, with the company saying it ‘would be open to exploring the potential’ of the East Midlands to Leeds route, building on discussions held with stakeholders during the bidding period.
Details of new and cascaded fleets are subject to an ongoing commercial process. Abellio confirmed the process of replacing the HSTs used on the Midland main line will start in 2020, with the franchise announcement promising the introduction of ‘modern diesel trains’. The company also confirms the introduction of electric services to Corby will assist with the gradual removal of the HSTs. Asked whether the HSTs would be subject to Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) modifications to allow them to remain in service beyond the end of this year (p11, last month), Abellio told Modern Railways: ‘We are engaging with the DfT to confirm the current status of PRM compliance since our bid was submitted last year, and to understand fully what is planned in the current direct award for EMT, especially between now and August’.
In a statement on 8 May, Abellio said: ‘As a responsible and experienced rail operator Abellio has taken great care in abiding by the rules of the franchising process during the standstill period and has not issued statements or briefing to the media. Once the standstill period has passed we will take steps to share in detail the plans we have to enhance the East Midlands railway over the coming years.’
The company also said: ‘Our view is that the East Midlands competition has been conducted in a robust and fair manner, through a process run by an experienced rail franchise team within the Department for Transport. The process is designed to ensure the best bid for the passengers and UK taxpayer.’
Speaking in the House of Commons on 7 May, Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: ‘Our assessment of bids has been comprehensive and fair and I have absolute confidence in the process.
It was a fair, open competition and Abellio provided the best bid for passengers, in which it demonstrated that it would not only meet but exceed the Department’s specifications. The Department’s procurement process is absolutely clear: submitting a non-compliant bid which rejected the commercial terms on offer, as Stagecoach chose to do, can lead to disqualification.’
CONTROVERSY OVER LEAKED BID DOCUMENT
Controversy regarding the East Midlands franchise award has emerged over the leak of a document from Stagecoach’s bid to a member of the Abellio bid team.
The document was sent by a member of Network Rail staff in August last year, shortly before the original deadline for bid submissions. DfT subsequently carried out an internal investigation, which concluded that the document was mistakenly sent but not opened, although this last aspect has been contested. Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, whose company partnered with Stagecoach on a bid for the West Coast Partnership franchise, stated in a blog on 1 May: ‘The DfT awarded the East Midlands franchise to Abellio following what it described as “rigorous competition”.
A few days later the media reported that during this competition Network Rail had accidentally sent Abellio key elements of Stagecoach’s bid. This disclosure breached the DfT’s “franchise letting process agreement”, but it responded by shrugging it off and claiming: “An expert third-party investigation established conclusively that Abellio did not access information relating to any other bidders”. It’s now been revealed that a third party has come forward and suggested that Abellio did indeed access the Stagecoach bid information.’
Speaking in the House of Commons on 7 May, Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: ‘On the bid leak, I am aware that an e-mail was sent incorrectly by Network Rail, which was received by one of the bidders, but that has been investigated and it was proved in that investigation that the e-mail was not opened and none of the information that was possibly within it was accessed, so it has not been material to this award.’
On 8 May Abellio said in a statement: ‘There have been reports suggesting that Abellio viewed material that was shared with us in a genuine error by Network Rail during the bidding process. They are inaccurate.
‘The facts are that experienced Abellio staff took immediate and responsible action to bring the matter to the attention of the Department for Transport. The Department then commissioned an independent investigation that confirmed beyond any doubt that the material had not been opened or read by any Abellio staff.’
NORWICH AND MATLOCK LINKED
Refurbished trains will be introduced on regional routes, and Abellio told Modern Railways the regional cascade would begin in late 2019 and be completed by December 2021, with the cascaded trains offering more capacity. On regional services a timetable change is planned for December 2021, at which point the Liverpool to Norwich service is due to be divided, with the Nottingham to Liverpool section transferring to another operator, likely Northern or TransPennine Express.
From this point, Abellio plans to extend the Norwich to Nottingham service through to Derby and Matlock. The Crewe to Derby service will be extended to Newark Castle via Nottingham, with these linkages together doubling the frequency of EMR services between Derby and Nottingham. Meanwhile, the current Leicester to Lincoln service will be extended to run through to Grimsby. Other regional frequency improvements will take place across Lincolnshire, including an hourly Peterborough – Lincoln – Doncaster service, along with improvements to evening and Sunday services. Abellio has also promised a trial of hydrogen fuel cell trains as part of the franchise. Asked about this, the company said the trial would ‘almost certainly’ take place on the Midland main line and would happen ‘during the second half of the franchise’, with specific plans for the trial in early stages of development.
At least £17 million is promised for station improvements, with larger schemes at Leicester, St Pancras, Market Harborough and Sheffield. Abellio says this includes implementing the successful ‘Living Room’ concept from its parent company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) in a scheme at Market Harborough. This would provide comfortable waiting areas featuring a mix of sofas, work chairs, desks, stools and counter tops, with nearby power points.