Govia Thameslink Railway began the gradual introduction of Siemens Mobility Class 717 EMUs into all-day passenger service on March 25, when the first two six-car units began operating Great Northern services from Moorgate. All 25 Class 717s are expected to be in service later this year.

Transport for London announced on March 22 that it had completed a £1bn 20-year sale and leaseback deal for the 70 nine-car Class 345 EMUs which Bombardier Transportation is delivering to operate Elizabeth Line services. The EMUs have been bought by the 345 Rail Leasing consortium of Equitix Investment Management Ltd, NatWest and SMBC Leasing. Law firm Ashurst advised TfL on the deal.

The Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure has granted planning permission for the Belfast Transport Hub. Designed by John McAslan + Partners and Arup, the integrated transport interchange with eight platforms is to be built near Great Victoria Street station and the Europa bus station. Construction is expected to take five years.

The last of the five Class 802 electro-diesel trainsets which Hitachi is producing for Hull Trains has been delivered from the Kasado factory in Japan to Pistoia in Italy for fitting out. The first completed trainset is scheduled to arrive in the UK by rail on August 29, with testing from September and gradual introduction of the fleet into passenger service between November and the end of the year.

Network Rail announced on March 26 that it had completed a £57m programme of improvements on the Highland main line between Perth and Inverness, including track remodelling and resignalling at Aviemore and Pitlochry. Intended to increase capacity to accommodate an hourly service, the work will also see average journey times reduced by around 10 min.

Mobile electronic point of sale supplier ECR Retail Systems has been awarded ITSO accreditation for its ECRGo2 TicketPoS, enabling it to support ITSO smart ticketing and reservation requirements. ‘This is an important milestone for our business, and we’re delighted to have been awarded this critical industry compliance certificate for our ECRGo2, the industry’s first fully-certified, all-in-one contactless, handheld mobile point of sale device’, said CEO Simon Pont.

Under the ‘Smart Plus’ branding, ScotRail has started trialling Cubic Transportation Systems’ One Account pay-as-you-go account-based contactless ticketing technology on Glasgow’s Cathcart loop suburban service. This is the first significant deployment of Cubic’s Urban Mobility Back Office platform in the UK, and is expected to pave the way for further deployment on both bus and rail.

Network Rail has awarded a contract to a joint venture of Balfour Beatty, TSO and Atkins for track, turnout and associated overhead line and signalling works on the London North West, London North East and East Midlands routes. The contract runs for five years with an option for a further five, and is worth an estimated £1·5bn over 10 years.

ScotRail has reached an £18m remedial agreement with the Scottish Government, it announced on March 22. It is to recruit an extra 55 drivers and 30 conductors this year, and there will be increased focus on fleet reliability, with three additional ‘classic’ HSTs being leased to provide extra resilience and support training. ScotRail will spend £500 000/year on the Performance Improvement Fund, and information screens will be upgraded at 16 stations. A specially-created role within the Operations team will ensure the delivery of a new three-year traincrew resource plan. Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure & Connectivity Michael Matheson said he expected to see ‘a continued upward trend of performance improvement’. However, insisting that ‘franchising in its current format doesn’t work’, he said he would be pushing for further devolution of rail powers as part of the Williams review.

Network Rail is to deliver improvements to waiting areas, toilets and passenger information systems at Wilmslow, Wigan Wallgate, St Helens Central, Glossop, Cheadle Hulme and Heaton Chapel. Valued at £1·38m, the work is part of a £15m package of customer benefits announced by the government in December following last year’s timetable change disruption on the Northern and TPE franchises.

Under a co-operation agreement announced on March 25, the West Midlands Rail Executive and heritage train operator Vintage Trains are to work with the Heart of England Community Rail Partnership to develop the Shakespeare Line from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon, upgrading stations and working to ‘integrate franchise, community and heritage activities’ along the route.

Network Rail has completed a £10m track renewal project at Fletton Junction south of Peterborough, allowing services on the East Coast Main Line to diverge from the fast tracks at up to 120 km/h, rather than the previous 65 km/h.