April 1st saw the launch of two new rail services across Manchester and the North of England, Arriva Rail North Ltd and First TransPennine Express Ltd.
They promise to provide much-needed brand new, state-of-the-art trains – which will cost more than £800m with the addition of more than 500 new carriages, the removal of the out-dated and unpopular Pacer trains by 2019 and the entire TransPennine fleet brought up to Intercity standards.
Over the next four years, the franchises will bring more than 140 new trains onto the network, providing space for 40,000 extra passengers at the busiest times of the day as well as adding a much needed increase in service frequency at off-peak times. Facilities at over 400 stations across the North will also be improved.
About Manchester spoke to the chief of Arriva Rail North.
“We have spent the last twelve years with our hands tied behind our backs” says Alex Hynes, the Managing Director of Northern.Alex is running the new operation after three years at the old Northern Franchise, with many of his team also coming from the old franchise, so what will be different?
“The challenge we have is that we have forty four months to transform the quality and capacity of rail services across the North of England” says Alex, ” in four ways, faster trains, more services,more carriages and more seats, the pace and the scale of the transformation is our biggest challenge but it is one that we will rise to”.
Alex is confident, with the great business plan, backed by Arriva and a billion pounds in funding, it all looks good.”The Franchise is finally going to get the shot in the arm and the investment that it needs”.
So what changes will be seeing and how quickly? Immediate changes will see the launch of a new customer experience centre, twenty four hours a day and only closed two days a year, as well as the launch of the delayed compensation scheme which Alex promises will deal with compensation payments better.
Within three months the entire fleet will be cleaned, more ticket gates at stations to crack down on ticketless travel and anti social behavior.
The first refurbished train will arrive this year, the first brand new train in 2018 and the end of the pacer train train in 2019 when, says Alex, the fleet will be entirely refurbished.
The Pacer has been one of the major complaints for Northen Customers, totally unfit for purpose, not meeting accessibility regulations a stop gaps measure that has been around with us for forty years.They will be gone by December 2019.
That date will also see the launch of Northern Connect, a premium brand that will see the Great Cities of the North connected by brand new one hundred mile an hour train and, hopes Alex, get the businessman to leave his car at home.
A lot of this will be using the existing infrastructure but there will be some disruption in the meantime, most notably with the electrification of the line between Manchester and Preston.
Every single station with a footfall of more than eight thousand people a year, which Alex assures me is most of them, will have retail and ticketing faculty installed.There are also plans for extended staffing hours at many stations, forty five will have new staff, some for the first time ever, as the new franchise puts more emphasis into customer relations.
As for smart travel, Alex agrees that we desperately need a system that allows a customer from a suburb in one city to another effortlessly and Northern are working with Transport for the North in getting a proposition that will cross both geographical and operator boundaries, although as yet there are no firm plans, Alex says his aspiration is that by the time the Pacer’s are finally retired, his customers will be travelling around using smart tickets.
So we look forward to a new era in rail travel here in Manchester and across the North.More than 2,000 extra services each week, with around 400 additional Sunday services, including new direct journeys from Bradford to Wakefield, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool and Hull; from Leeds to Chester and Bridlington; from Lincoln to Leeds; and from Manchester Airport to Warrington, Bradford and Halifax,nearly a 40% increase in capacity – creating space for 31,000 extra passengers travelling into the 5 major commuter cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle during the morning rush-hour from Northern.
220 new carriages, equivalent to 44 trains and worth more than £400 million, providing fast 125 mph services across the network from Transpennine, additional services from Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh from December 2017 and discounted advance fares for 16- to 18-year-olds and jobseekers.