UK: On August 19 the Department for Transport announced the six bidders which have been prequalified to submit ‘innovative and ambitious proposals’ to operate two passenger franchises in northern England. Invitations to tender are expected to be issued in December, with the winners to be announced by October 2015. The new franchises are scheduled to start in February 2016.

The Northern franchise covers commuter, regional and rural services. It is currently held by a 50:50 joint venture of Serco and Abellio, which operates 2 500 trains/day serving more than 500 stations. The shortlisted bidders are:

  • Abellio Northern Ltd;
  • Arriva Rail North Ltd;
  • Govia Northern Ltd (65% Go-Ahead, 35% Keolis).

The new franchise would run for eight to 10 years, with DfT having an option for an extension of up to one year.

The TransPennine Express franchise operates regional express services linking northern cities. It is currently held by a joint venture of FirstGroup (55%) and Keolis (45%), which operates 300 services/day serving 105 stations, with 60% of the 70 000 passengers/day being leisure travellers. The shortlisted bidders are:

  • First Trans Pennine Express Ltd;
  • Keolis Go-Ahead Ltd (65% Keolis, 35% Go-Ahead);
  • Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Ltd.

The current franchise is due to end on March 31 2015, but negotiations are underway for the incumbent to continue operating the services until February 2016. The new franchise is expected to run for seven to nine years, with an option for an extension of up to a year.

Over the next five years more than £1bn is to be spent on the network covered by the franchises, including £600m for Network Rail’s Northern Hub project, plus northwest and Trans-Pennine electrification. Potential operators ‘will need to demonstrate how they will use these projects to increase capacity in order to tackle crowding and meet future passenger demand; provide faster and more frequent services; and upgrade rolling stock’. This will include submitting proposals to replace the 1980s-built Pacer diesel railcars used on the Northern franchise.

DfT said the new operators would also be expected to work closely with the Rail North group of local authorities ‘to ensure local rail users will have more influence in how their train services are run.’