New Cross Country rail contract ‘lost opportunity’

West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) transport boss has branded a new contract for Cross Country Trains a ‘lost opportunity’ to boost passenger capacity.

The Department for Transport recently announced the Cross Country Trains Direct Award which will see operator Arriva pay the government £163 million to run the franchise until October 2019.

But Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA transport lead, said today(Friday 14th October) he was disappointed that the deal failed to address the region’s key priorities for the franchise.

He said: “While the new deal will deliver some passenger benefits, such as slightly faster journeys to Manchester and improved wifi, we are deeply disappointed at the lack of additional capacity to meet growing passenger numbers.

“The promised ‘39,000 more seats per annum at peak times by December 2017’ appears to equate to just 150 extra seats per day - or just two additional carriages - on the Edinburgh to Plymouth route through Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol.”

Cllr Lawrence said extra peak capacity was urgently needed on all core Cross Country rail routes into West Midlands from Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent; Oxford and Reading; Burton, Nottingham and Derby; Tamworth, Leicester and Nuneaton; and from Cardiff and Bristol.

He added: “This is hugely disappointing given the continuing growth across the West Midlands rail network and the fact that there has been almost no increase in the capacity provided by the Cross Country rail franchise since 2008/9.

“With many Cross Country trains already full to standing on peak services into and out of Birmingham, this is a critical issue - especially as the next franchisee will not be in a position to introduce additional trains until the early 2020s.

“The services are overcrowded now – we can’t wait until the next decade.”

Cllr Lawrence said the capacity issues on Cross Country and on other West Midlands rail services strengthened the case for the Midlands Rail Hub scheme to provide additional rail network capacity through new rail connections at Bordesley (Camp Hill line chords) into an expanded Birmingham Moor St Station with additional platforms there and at Birmingham Snow Hill.

Cllr Mark Winnington, chair of West Midlands Rail (WMR), which will be jointly specifying and managing the next West Midlands rail franchise from October 2017, said that WMR had already secured a new West Midlands regional service from Stoke and Stafford to Birmingham which would help relieve overcrowding on Cross Country services from Manchester from December 2018. 

Cllr Winnington added that WMR authorities including WMCA, were also talking to both short-listed bidders for the new West Midlands franchise about further opportunities to provide new services that could further relieve capacity on other Cross Country routes across the West Midlands. 

Both WMR and WMCA have also called for local Cross Country services from Birmingham to Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to be brought into the West Midlands franchise when the new Cross Country Direct Award contract expires in 2019.

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