FirstGroup and Keolis retain Transpennine Express franchise

  • Pacers peddled with new rolling stock in place;
  • Evolution of Smart Ticketing and free WiFi at stations;
  • New connections throughout Northern England.

The Department for Transport today [09 December] has awarded the Northern franchise to Arriva/DB Regio today. As part of their franchise, the unpopular Class 142 and 144 Pacer units will be scrapped. In their place would be a mix of brand new and nearly new rolling stock. Their franchise term will be active from April 2016 to March 2025.

FirstGroup/Keolis, who hold the Transpennine Express franchise, will see their present term extended to March 2023. Both franchisees will also be jointly managed by the Department for Transport and Rail North Limited. Its annual subsidy will be reduced by £140 million by the end of Arriva Rail North’s term. Benefits may include:

  • £55 million investment in railway stations, including ticket machines;
  • 500 brand-new air conditioned carriages;
  • Space for another 40,000 passengers;
  • The introduction of Smart Ticketing using mobile devices and free WiFi at stations;
  • 2,000 extra journeys a week (on top of the 2015 Summer Timetable).

In December 2004, the previous Northern Rail franchise was awarded on a “zero growth” basis, a decision which in rail terms was akin to Decca turning down The Beatles. Growth exceeded all expectations – especially in Greater Manchester and Merseyside where the already uncomfortable Pacer units were less so due to overcrowding.

From 2016 onwards, there will improved rail services including:

  • A direct link from Leeds to Chester, via the Calder Valley line and Manchester Victoria;
  • Two trains per hour from Chester to Manchester Piccadilly via Northwich;
  • Two trains per hour from Buxton to Manchester Piccadilly;
  • Four trains per hour along the Atherton line to Wigan and Kirkby/Southport;

Both franchises will be active from April 2016. Arriva, as Arriva Rail North Limited, will be able to invest in 281 of the 500 air conditioned carriages. They are set to replace the Pacers, due to leave the rail network in 2019. In addition to its stopping services, franchise commitments include the introduction of Northern Connect, a range of semi-fast express services complementing Transpennine Express’ inter-city trains. They will be regional express routes using new or refurbished trains.

Furthermore, there is also a commitment to free WiFi at railway stations and cheaper fares for jobseekers. Changes to Transpennine Express’ franchise will see enhanced Anglo-Scottish links. With 220 new carriages, 2018 will see the return of a direct service from Liverpool Lime Street to Glasgow Central. The following year may see the extension of Newcastle Central bound services towards Edinburgh Waverley.

Manchester – soon to benefit from the Northern Hub improvements – will see enhanced connections with Scotland; a long awaited upgrade of West Coast Main Line services will see more trains to Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley. December 2017 will see extra daily services to Hull Paragon from the city.

The latest announcement also complements the Northern English Oyster style card and future upgrades to Greater Manchester’s bus stations in Ashton-under-Lyne, Wigan and Stockport. Could exciting times await the North’s rail passengers? We shall see. East of the M60 will be covering further developments with great interest.

In Numbers

  • 220: First/Keolis Transpennine Express’ extra carriages;
  • 281: Arriva Rail North’s extra carriages;
  • 2,000: extra services per week from 2016 onwards;
  • 9,000: extra seats into Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne;
  • 40,000: extra space for passengers on the main commuter corridors out of Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.


  • GOV.UK: Massive Boost To Rail Services Brings Northern Powerhouse To Life (09 December 2015);
  • Department for Transport: Northern Franchise Improvement Maps (checked 09 December 2015).

S.V., 09 December 2015.

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