While First has once again won the TransPennine Express franchise, Northern users will see a change of operator as Arriva – who previously ran local services in the North East between 1997 and 2004 – takes over from Serco-Abellio.
Both franchises will begin in April next year, running until March 2023 and March 2025 respectively, and will be jointly managed from Leeds by the Department for Transport and Rail North – the passenger services ‘devolution partnership’ that was agreed last year between the government and the North’s local authorities.
So, with £1.2 billion of investment promised across the two franchises – including 500 brand-new train carriages – what will be the most significant gains for the North East?
Probably the biggest cheer will be when Northern’s outdated Pacer trains are entirely replaced, by the end of 2019, with £400-million worth of new air-conditioned carriages. An additional 200 new carriages, worth another £400 million, will also be added to TransPennine services. Meanwhile, over the next four years, free Wi-Fi will be introduced across all Northern and TransPennine trains and at many stations.
In terms of services, North East passengers can expect to see new connectivity and enhanced frequencies. Perhaps most notably, there will be new ‘Northern Connect’ services along the Tyne Valley line and through to Middlesbrough via Newcastle, featuring new or refurbished trains, more staffed stations, and at-station catering facilities.
On Teesside, the Northern routes between Bishop Auckland and Middlesbrough via Darlington, Middlesbrough and Newcastle via Stockton and Darlington, and Middlesbrough and Whitby will all see extra services.
TransPennine will operate a new service from Newcastle to Edinburgh via Morpeth, and run extra services to Leeds and Manchester from both Newcastle and Middlesbrough – allied to the previously announced electrification of the TransPennine line, due for completion in 2022 – which will improve connections between the east and west of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
Overall then, passengers across the region should see better trains, more services and improved stations over the next few years, though there’s nothing in this latest announcement about reopening mothballed routes to towns such as Ashington and Blyth.
And it remains to be seen whether the infamous Teesside Airport railway station – which this week narrowly lost its status as the UK’s quietest – will grow its numbers from the mere 32 passengers that used it over the year 2014-15.
Written by Graham Soult