ABELLIO has started running trains on the Midland Main Line and associated routes as East Midlands Railway. The formal handover from Stagecoach took place at 01.59 on Sunday morning, bringing to an end a franchise which began in November 2007.
The shortlisted bidders for East Midlands were originally FirstGroup/Trenitalia (70:30), Arriva and Stagecoach. Abellio was also shortlisted in the summer of 2017.
The consortium of FirstGroup and Trenitalia announced that it was withdrawing from the contest on 23 April 2018, and the DfT also rejected the Stagecoach and Arriva bids on 10 April 2019, citing ‘non-compliance’ over provisions for pension funding.
The franchise was awarded to Abellio on the same day, although both Stagecoach and Arriva since have launched legal action against the Department for Transport. Arriva is reported to be claiming compensation of £200 million.
The eight-year contract includes a possible extension of up to two years.
Abellio will now be responsible for introducing bi mode trains which will be able to run on electricity south of Market Harborough and also on the Corby line.
Journey times are expected to be shortened, thanks in part to the recent removal by Network Rail of a sharp curve through the platforms at Market Harborough.
Abellio says there will be a total investment of £600 million in the franchise, although this includes £400 million for 165 new Hitachi-built vehicles formed as 33 five-car sets, which will be funded by train leasing company Rock Rail. Abellio said the new trains would start coming into service in 2022.
Abellio (UK) managing director Dominic Booth said: ‘These new trains form the centrepiece of our ambitious plans for a complete replacement of all the trains on the East Midlands Railway and are a more than £600 million investment to really improve the region’s railway. They will respond to what our passengers have told us they want with more frequent services, faster journeys between the East Midlands and London, and provide more capacity with 80 per cent more seats into London in the morning peak.’
The Delay Repay threshold will now come down from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, in line with general DfT policy over improved compensation, while Abellio also said there will be an ‘improved and more consistent seven day catering service’ in both First and Standard Class.
The last day of Stagecoach operation on the route was marred by a fourth RMT strike, in a dispute over pay and working conditions. Main line services were not thought to have been affected, but frequencies on other routes were reduced, with some trains being replaced by buses.