Bimode and hydrogen trains as Abellio wins next East Midlands franchise

UK: The Department for Transport named Abellio as the winner of the next East Midlands passenger franchise on April 10. Formal award is subject to a regulatory standstill period. The contract is due to begin on August 18 2019 and run until at least August 22 2027.

The franchisee is to be known as East Midlands Railway, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Holdings Ltd, which is in turn owned by the Netherlands’ national passenger train operator NS.

The East Midlands franchise covers inter-city services on the Midland Main Line between London St Pancras and Yorkshire, and regional services across central England. It has been operated by Stagecoach Group under the East Midlands Trains brand since 2007. Stagecoach, Abellio and Arriva were shortlisted to tender for the next contract.

Bimode and hydrogen trains

The franchise will include the introduction of new bimode trains, including ‘entirely replacing the existing inter-city fleet with more reliable and comfortable trains’.

The decision to use electro-diesel trains follows the DfT’s scrapping of plans to electrify the Midland Main Line, which led to a delay in the refranchising process. Details of the new fleet will not be announced until the orders have been finalised, but the first new train is expected to enter service by April 2022.

Abellio will also trial hydrogen fuel cell trains on the Midland Main Line.

DfT said there would be ‘replacement of the entire regional train fleet’ with ‘faster, more modern and comfortable’ refurbished trains to provide a ‘higher speed, better connected’ regional timetable.

Enhancements planned

DfT and Abellio said other enhancements would include:

  • more flexible and convenient smart ticketing options, including ‘flexipass’ tickets to provide better value fares for regular passengers who travel less than five days week:
  • improved delay repay compensation;
  • free wi-fi and ‘high quality’ mobile connectivity:
  • an 80% increase in the number of morning peak seats into Nottingham, Lincoln and London St Pancras;
  • a ‘high quality’ electric express service between London, Luton and Corby from December 2020;
  • two trains per hour calling at both Luton and Luton Airport Parkway from December 2020, offering better connectivity with stations further north:
  • more trains on Sundays, with earlier and later services on other days;
  • a stations improvement fund of £16·8m, including £6·9m for accessibility improvements;
  • £9·4m for commercial and customer service improvements at stations;
  • £1·5m for Customer & Communities Investment schemes to deliver non-commercial enhancements at stations, such as improving seating, luggage, toilet and car park facilities;
  • zero-carbon pilots at six stations:
  • 916 extra car parking spaces and 1 050 cycle spaces;
  • doubling of funding for Community Rail schemes, and creating up to four new Community Rail Partnerships:
  • enhanced employee training and benefits, including the introduction of 30 pre-apprenticeships each year, providing work experience to young people.

A railway ‘fit for the future’

‘Improving the experience for passengers is at the heart of this new franchise’, said Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling, adding that the zero-carbon pilot and fuel cell trials would ‘play a major role in building a railway fit for the future.’

Managing Director of Abellio UK Dominic Booth said he looked forward to the franchise ‘driving economic growth and delivering significant benefits for passengers’. He said Abellio would ‘invest £600m in improvements to trains and stations, maximising the effect of the government’s £1·5bn upgrade of the Midland Main Line, to make journeys easier, more reliable and comfortable for our passengers’.

Closer collaboration between the operator and infrastructure manager Network Rail would ‘ensure that track and train are aligned to deliver vital enhancements to infrastructure and to put the interests of passengers first.’