Greater Anglia's franchise has ended as new era beckons for rail

Greater Anglia train

Greater Anglia now run trains on a direct contract rather than as a franchise. - Credit: Paul Geater

East Anglia's railways have undergone a significant change which could ultimately see all passenger trains emerge as Great British Railways services within the next three to five years.

The franchise agreement with Greater Anglia was ended in September and replaced by an operating contract under which the company will continue to operate trains.

That contract is set to run for five years - but can be set aside after three if the new model is agreed by then. 

The change means that the operators will no longer be given a subsidy to operate services and then keep any profit they make - they will be be given a flat fee with the government taking the financial risk.

All rail franchises across the country are being changed in this way - but in a few cases like the South East and with LNER - the government has taken over direct ownership of the passenger train services.

The government is expected to come up with proposals for its new model of running passenger trains early next year - and invite responses from businesses and the public. 

But it is expected to wait until the long-term effects of the pandemic can be assessed before any final decisions are reached - at present companies are selling only about 45% of pre-pandemic numbers of season tickets to regular commuters.

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Ticket sales for individual journeys - for leisure or business - have now hit about 90% of pre-pandemic levels, meaning that overall about 70% of passengers have returned. Those figures apply both nationally and to Greater Anglia which has a mixture of commuter, Intercity and rural routes.

At present there are teams within the Department for Transport and at the individual train operating companies looking at the new ways of working under the "Great British Railways" branding.

One thing to be decided is whether the trains will all have the same branding - or retain regional identities.

The decision to shake up the rail industry had been considered before the pandemic, but the collapse in passenger numbers in March 2020 - and the very slow recovery since then - forced the government to announce in September 2020 that franchising would be abolished.

Trains are now being kept running with substantial government subsidies - but these are considered necessary to retain an attractive public transport industry for the future and that has led to a steady growth in the number of train users.