On 27 June 2014, my Department announced its intention to award the Essex Thameside franchise to NXET Trains Ltd (National Express), pending the successful completion of a standstill period. I am happy to confirm to the House that this standstill period has ended and we completed the contract after the markets closed on 15 July. This means that NXET Trains Ltd (under their brand name c2c) can begin the mobilisation process that will mean the new franchise will begin in November this year.
The contract will run for 15 years and will allow the company to build on the impressive performance of the franchise and deliver a host of passenger benefits, worth around £160 million. The Essex Thameside franchise provides vital commuter services to millions of passengers every year travelling between London and the commuter hubs of Barking, Basildon, Southend. The new franchise will see c2c provide more capacity and a new fleet of trains during the franchise. The 17 new trains will provide almost 4,800 extra seats, on top of the 25,000 additional seats for morning peak-time passengers c2c has committed to provide every week by the end of the contract.
More than £30 million will be invested in improving stations during the franchise, including at the major hubs of Fenchurch Street and Barking. The operator will also provide free wi-fi, smart ticketing and better customer information that will all improve the experience for passengers on the busy route. This franchise will also see an enhanced delay repay scheme including automatic repayment for passengers with smart tickets, a first for the railway in Great Britain.
The successful award of this contract shows the continuing success of my franchising programme. A programme that is seeing real benefits for passengers and taxpayers.