The long awaited announcement over the rail franchises was made last week. This decided on who will provide the rail services on the lines servicing the High Peak. The Northern franchise covers the service into both Buxton and Glossop from Manchester and the Trans-Pennine Franchise includes the line between Manchester and Sheffield that takes in the Hope Valley and also Chinley. These franchises will start in April 2016. The Northern franchise will run for nine years until 2025 and the Trans-Pennine for 7 years until 2023. Both of them have an optional extension at the discretion of the Secretary of State at the time. The Northern franchise was awarded to Arriva Rail North Ltd. and the Trans-Pennine to First TransPennine Express Ltd.
Both these awards are hugely significant for the High Peak as there have been serious concerns over the rail services we receive in the High Peak and, like many, I have been awaiting this announcement with keen anticipation. I am pleased to see improvements included in the new franchises; journey times between Buxton and Manchester will reduce, there will be longer trains on the Glossop line by 2017, which in turn will be replaced with new trains by 2020. There will be over £1 billion worth of investment into the Northern franchise, and there will be more capacity introduced on the Manchester – Sheffield line as part of the Trans-Pennine arrangements.
I am encouraged by the new franchises and there is much to be welcomed in them; greater capacity, more trains, significant investment across both franchises, new trains, introduction of free Wifi and the removal of the Pacer trains. There are also challenging targets on cancellations which the operators will have to meet.
It is early days and I, like others, am studying all the proposals closely and will be meeting with both the successful bidding companies early in the new year to go through all their plans in more detail, to ensure that we can look forward to a service that is fit for purpose and delivers what we need across the High Peak. There are questions that I have and also some initial concerns over the plans, but with the new franchises being more rigorous than the previous ones and with the companies holding them for at least 7 years they have the time to ensure that the investment can go into the rail services, and I want to be certain that investment benefits the rail users of the High Peak.