THE NEXT East Midlands franchise could include a requirement to introduce new bi-mode trains on the Midland main line and some transfer of services between franchises.
The Department for Transport has begun consultation on the new franchise, which it says will now begin in August 2019. The current deal, held by franchisee Stagecoach, runs until March 2018, and the intention is to take up the existing option to extend this by a year and then to make a further interim agreement with East Midlands Trains. Earlier this year DfT announced a shortlist of three bidders for the new franchise – Stagecoach, Arriva and a 70:30 joint venture between FirstGroup and Trenitalia. The consultation runs until 11 October, with the aim being to issue an invitation to tender in April 2018 and award the franchise in spring 2019.
Following the abandonment of plans for electrification of the Midland main line (MML) north of Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham (‘Informed Sources’), the proposal is to introduce a new fleet of bi-mode trains from 2022. This would be combined with plans to segregate MML services into ‘distinct inter-city and London commuter markets’, with services from Corby and Kettering southwards to London using dedicated commuter EMUs. This would provide a higher capacity but less frequent service for passengers from these stations, while reducing the number of calls made by longer-distance trains at stations south of Kettering. Together, DfT says this could reduce journey times on peak hour long-distance services by up to 20 minutes and deliver over 1,000 additional seats per hour in the peak into London.
Introduction of 12-car EMUs on Corby services would be facilitated by electrification from Bedford to Kettering and Corby, due for completion in December 2019. At this point it is planned to introduce an extra long-distance path out of St Pancras, and this is likely to be taken by a Corby service. The consultation also suggests direct services from Oakham and Melton Mowbray to London may have to be withdrawn, as the section north of Corby is not proposed to be electrified.
However, no specific reference is made to the fate of EMT’s HST fleet, which will not meet accessibility regulations due to come into force in 2020. At present there is no plan to make the fleet compliant with these, which would involve fitting power doors and accessible toilets, but the Government’s announcement on introduction of bi-modes suggests such a fleet would not be introduced until 2022.
Elsewhere, plans to optimise the routes covered by the East Midlands franchise could see a number of transfers. It is suggested the Liverpool to Norwich service could be split at Nottingham or Sheffield with the western part moving to the TransPennine Express franchise, to provide ‘a more efficient, cohesive service’ between Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. Plans to reduce calls at smaller stations on these services are highlighted.
Also suggested is moving the Nottingham to Birmingham service from CrossCountry to the East Midlands franchise, potentially allowing through services such as Lincoln to Birmingham, and the Birmingham to Stansted service likewise, which could allow flexibility as to the destinations served in East Anglia. These changes are in addition to an existing plan to transfer the Barton-on-Humber branch service from Northern to the East Midlands franchise.
Better regional connections are proposed, in particular to the East Coast main line, along with changed stopping patterns and more early morning, late evening and Sunday services. Introducing more frequent services in Lincolnshire is suggested, but it is cautioned this would lead to level crossing barriers being down for longer periods of time, especially in Lincoln city centre. A plan by Nottinghamshire County Council to reopen the freight line from Shirebrook to Ollerton for passenger services is highlighted, which would require reopening of two former stations and construction of a new station at Ollerton.
Improvements to stations, ticketing, passenger information and security are also proposed. Closer integration between the operator and Network Rail and using new models of private funding are other aspirations stated, along with use of smart ticketing and Digital Railway technologies.
In an update to its rail franchising schedule, DfT has confirmed plans to extend the current CrossCountry franchise, run by Arriva under a direct award agreement, to December 2019, which would require an extension of two reporting periods.