The UK government has issued an Invitation to Tender (ITT) to two shortlisted operators for the new West Midlands franchise.
The ITT specifies the introduction of longer trains to boost peak capacity into London and Birmingham, the creation of 300 additional Sunday services by 2021 and free Wi-Fi on all main line routes by the end of 2019.
It specifically calls for new direct peak services between Walsall and London, a new hourly service from Birmingham and Wolverhampton to Crewe, via Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent, additional evening services from Birmingham to Lichfield City, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Whitlocks End and Dorridge, and later running of Saturday trains from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Bromsgrove and Liverpool.
The ITT also states that the operator will need to offer improved ticket options for customers who travel for fewer than five days a week and create a minimum of 60 apprenticeships throughout the franchise term.
London and West Midlands Railway Limited, the Govia subsidiary that currently operates the franchise, and West Midlands Trains Limited, a subsidiary of Abellio – with East Japan Railway (JR East) and Mitsui & Co Ltd as minority partners, have been shortlisted to take over the franchise from October 2017 until March 2026. The shortlist had originally also included MTR.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the ITT, which was shaped by comments from the public and regional transport bodies, is the minimum service requirement and that it is encouraging the two bidders to offer further improvements.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “We are making the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era and today marks a key step forward in giving passengers better journeys across the West Midlands and beyond.
“This franchise serves both commuters and long distance passengers and these benefits will deliver extra and smoother journeys for customers using these services.”