More trains for Stansted Airport

PUBLIC transport group Arriva promised improved rail links between Stansted Airport and the Midlands yesterday after winning the last of three new franchises in a shake-up of train services across central England.

PUBLIC transport group Arriva promised improved rail links between Stansted Airport and the Midlands yesterday after winning the last of three new franchises in a shake-up of train services across central England.

Arriva secured the “New Cross Country” deal ahead of three other bidders, including Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Trains, which holds the existing Cross Country franchise, and National Express, which is also seeing three of its franchises disappear under the reorganisation.

The franchise awarded yesterday comes into force on November 11 and is due to run until April 2016.

It covers the existing Cross Country routes, serving destinations from Penzance to Aberdeen, including Plymouth, Bristol, Brighton, Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus the Nottingham-Cardiff and Birmingham-Stansted services currently run by National Express's Central Trains.


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Improvements promised by Arriva - which will receive a subsidy of £1.05billion subsidy over the lifetime of the franchise - will include three extra trains a day from Stansted Airport to Birmingham and four more in the opposite direction, with additional seating and First Class areas on all the trains.

In addition to the subsidy, the Department for Transport (DfT) has accepted that Arriva may increase unregulated fairs by an average of 3.4% above inflation each year.

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Rail Minister Tom Harris said: “We have secured an excellent deal with Arriva. Not only are they delivering an even bigger increase in capacity than we asked for, they are doing it a year earlier than expected.”

However, Gerry Doherty, general secretary of transport union TSSA, said the franchise system had “turned into a game of musical chairs, in which the private rail companies keep winning and passengers keep losing”.

He added: “Not only will Arriva be allowed to increase fares every year above inflation, meaning a rise of more than 50% over the lifetime of the franchise, but the taxpayer is also giving them a subsidy of £1 billion to allow them the privilege of fleecing passengers every year.”

Virgin expressed disappointment at the decision and said it would be seeking a meeting with the DfT to discover why its “extremely competitive” bid had been rejected, despite its success in nearly doubling passenger numbers on Cross Country routes and improving punctuality to above 90%.

Despite losing out yesterday, Virgin will continue as operator on the West Coast Main Line route between London and Glasgow and mounting a joint bit with Scottish-based Stagecoach for the new East Coast Main Line franchise between London and Edinburgh which is due to be announced shortly.

National Express, whose rail operations include the East of England regional franchise One and London-Tilbury-Southend operator c2c, will also be hoping to add the East Coast route to its currently fast-shrinking rail business.

Besides Central Trains, its Midland Mainline and Silverlink franchises are also coming to an end, to be replaced, respectively, by a new franchise for the East Midlands and another for the West Midlands.

The East Midlands franchise, which also includes the Norwich-Nottingham-Liverpool route currently operated by Central, was awarded last month to Stagecoach whose franchise commitments include a 35% increase in capacity on the Norwich-Liverpool route.

The West Midlands franchise, meanwhile, has gone to Govia, a partnership between UK operator Go-Ahead and European public transport group Keolis.

Besides National Express and Virgin, the bidders for the East Coast franchise include FirstGroup, which like National Express has failed with bids for both East Midlands and New Cross Country, and yesterday's victor, Arriva.

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