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Transforming the North's Railway

Volume 593: debated on Friday 27 February 2015

A transformation in transport connectivity between the cities of the north is vital to realising their potential to become a “northern powerhouse” for the UK's economy.

On 27 October 2014, the Government set out how they intended to work with Transport for the North, Network Rail and the Highways Agency to develop a new transport strategy for the north.

A central plank of this work is improving the railways connecting the northern cities. As announced by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, this includes the development of proposals for HS3, a high speed rail link designed to cut journey times between these great cities, boosting businesses and creating more jobs and security for hard-working people.

This work continues apace, and it remains the Government’s intent to publish an interim report shortly.

In the meantime, I am pleased to inform the House that I published today the invitations to tender for the next Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises.

I have also published today “Transforming the North’s Railway”, a stakeholder briefing document that sets out the Government’s response to the consultation on the two franchises that took place from June to August 2014.

These publications mark an important first step in the transformation of the train services in the north of England to support economic growth. More people than ever are using the north’s railways, and the demand for travel by rail into our great northern cities is predicted to grow into the future. Passengers, businesses, local communities and their representatives across the north told us that railway services must be revitalised and expanded upon under the new franchises in order to be fit for the (21st) century and to achieve our vision for the “northern powerhouse”.

The Government have listened carefully to those views. The invitations to tender published today, the result of the Government’s collaborative work with Rail North, representing local transport authorities across the north, require the shortlisted bidders for the two franchises to start on the journey of transformation that is needed.

This includes

a modernised fleet of Northern trains, including full replacement of the unpopular Pacers and the introduction of 120 new-build vehicles by 1 January 2020

more frequent services, including on Sundays

more seats at the busiest times

dedicated funding for investment in Northern’s stations

significantly increased funding for community rail

challenging targets for increases in customer satisfaction

Wi-Fi capability on all trains, providing free connectivity where there is coverage

working in partnership with Network Rail to deliver the Government's £1 billion investment in the railway infrastructure of the north, including electrification and the northern hub

retention of the important direct link between South Humberside and Manchester Airport.

To complement a rejuvenated northern franchise that serves the interests of its passengers and local communities, the Government’s vision is that TransPennine Express becomes the inter-city rail operator for the north, operating fast, high-quality inter-regional services, with a strong focus on serving its customers well.

Shortlisted bidders for the TransPennine Express franchise have until 28 May 2015 to submit their bids. For Northern, the deadline is 26 June 2015.

It is anticipated that the new franchises will start in April 2016. Franchise management will be carried out by a joint Rail North Ltd - Department for Transport team based in West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s offices in Leeds under a partnership agreement with my Department, which we expect to complete soon.