Rail passengers will enjoy extra capacity, more frequent services and free Wi-Fi under a new, locally managed rail network for the West Midlands, it was confirmed today (Tuesday August 30).
A wide range of passenger benefits have been included in a ground breaking document which lays out the minimum specifications to be met by whichever train operator wins the next West Midlands franchise due to start in October 2017.
The Invitation to Tender document and the passenger improvements it contains has been drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT) in collaboration with West Midlands Rail (WMR), a consortium of all 14 metropolitan, shire and unitary authorities in the wider region.
One major improvement in the new franchise will be an increase in Sunday services to the same level of frequency currently seen on Saturdays. This will apply to nearly all local routes and together with more evening services is aimed at better reflecting modern working and leisure patterns.
The increases, along with a doubling of off-peak services between Birmingham and Shrewsbury and a new, direct peak time service between Walsall and London are among a number of improvements resulting from WMR’s influence in the design of the new franchise.
The new franchise will also be part managed by WMR allowing more local control and influence over services – something which currently rests with central Government.
Cllr Mark Winnington, chair of West Midlands Rail and Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for economic growth, said: “Today’s announcement is a game changer in that it is the first time the region has had this level of involvement in shaping what a train company has to deliver for local passengers.
“The region has come together to grab this devolution opportunity with both hands and we believe that together with the DfT we have set out a railway that brings real benefits not only for passengers but also for local businesses while supporting economic growth and jobs.
“The authorities of the West Midlands are united in this and believe the region better understands what it needs from its railway and that having greater responsibility for its management is good for passengers, good for the economy and good for taxpayers.”
Other improvements set out in the Invitation to Tender include:
- Space for more than 30,000 additional peak time journeys into Birmingham
- Bespoke local branding of trains as part of a separate business unit managed by West Midlands Rail
- Increased frequency between Birmingham and Bromsgrove and Birmingham and Rugeley following completion of electrification schemes
- New hourly service from Birmingham and Wolverhampton to Crewe via Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent
- Free Wi-Fi on all local services by 2019
- Expansion of smart ticketing
Announcing the Invitation to Tender, Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “We are making the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era and today marks a key step forward in giving passengers better journeys across the West Midlands and beyond.
“This franchise serves both commuters and long distance passengers and these benefits will deliver extra and smoother journeys for customers using these services.”
Train companies bidding for the franchise are being encouraged to include proposals for additional benefits over and above the minimum requirements published today.
It follows an extensive public consultation which attracted almost 2,000 responses.