Arriva CrossCountry has promised faster services, free Wi-Fi and a £20 million investment in its fleet after being directly awarded a contract to continue to run the franchise until 2019.
Details of the new deal released by the Department for Transport (DfT) include 39,000 more seats on the Edinburgh-Plymouth route, via Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol, by December 2017, cutting journey times between Birmingham and Manchester by between nine and 12 minutes, and introducing free Wi-Fi by April 2018.
In addition to this, the three-year contract will set “challenging” punctuality and reliability targets. It also commits £340,000 to community rail partnerships.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “We are making the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era and today is a key milestone in giving passengers better journeys right across the Cross Country network.
“The franchise, which spans parts of England, Scotland and Wales, serves both commuters and long distance passengers and these benefits from Arriva CrossCountry will deliver extra and smoother journeys for customers using these services.”
Arriva CrossCountry managing director Andy Cooper said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to deliver even more for our customers over the next three years through this new agreement. Satisfaction is the theme for the range of investments we will be making, with better, faster journeys with more seats and free Wi-Fi.
“We will also be looking to our customers for feedback on how we can deliver them great journeys, and a strong focus on engaging with the many communities and stakeholders our trains serve across the country.”
The new contract runs from September 2016 to October 2019 and will include £163 million in premium payments back to the Treasury.
Tacked on to the end of the franchise was an announcement that Metroline, which is owned by ComfortDelGro, has been awarded one of the DfT’s Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) Passports. The process is designed to make it easier for passport holders to bid for franchise competitions up until 2019.