UK: On December 3 the Department for Transport announced a direct award agreement which will see incumbent Govia continue to operate the West Midlands passenger franchise under the London Midland brand from the expiry of its current deal in April 2016 until October 2017.

The Govia joint venture of Go-Ahead Group (65%) and Keolis (35%) has operated the franchise since 2007. It covers local and inter-regional services between London, the West Midlands and northwest of England, carrying around 64 million passengers/year.

A subsidy of £130m will be paid over the period of the next contract, which includes:

  • new targets for passenger satisfaction, punctuality and cleanliness;
  • recruitment of extra drivers, conductors and on-board staff;
  • free wi-fi on long-distance services between London, Birmingham, Crewe and Liverpool, and a commitment that free wi-fi will be rolled out on all services when the next competitively-tendered franchise starts;
  • new and upgraded ticket machines at selected stations, with ‘click and collect’ capability and contactless payment;
  • extra car parking spaces at Watford, Hemel Hempstead and Tamworth;
  • installation of CCTV on Birmingham Cross-City services;
  • issuing station staff with tablet computers to improve passenger information;
  • working with the Smart Cities Partnership to introduce smart ticketing on trains, building on Centro’s existing Swift smartcard scheme;
  • two extra weekday evening services from London to the Trent Valley;
  • earlier Sunday services to Birmingham from surrounding towns including Rugby and Lichfield;
  • new Sunday services from Longbridge, Dorridge and Whitlocks End;
  • an extra daily return service between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey.

‘This new franchise offers some very exciting opportunities and will bring benefits touching every element of our passengers' journeys’, said London Midland managing director Patrick Verwer. ‘It will enable us to continue delivering improvements for our customers and, as before, we remain committed to listening to our passengers and working with our stakeholders, communities and local elected representatives to make further improvements in the months ahead.’

In addition to the franchise commitments, DfT said it was ‘pushing ahead’ with electrification of the Chase line from Walsall to Rugeley Trent Valley and the extension of electric services to a new station at Bromsgrove. New stations are to open at Coventry Arena, Bermuda Park and Kenilworth.