£1bn regional rail investment launched

The rail franchise that will cover the West Midlands until at least 2026 brushed off the snow to launch its £1bn investment plans.

West Midlands Trains’ spending will include £680m on new and refurbished trains, £70m on depots to improve reliability and £60m on stations.

The franchise was awarded in August and began operating on Sunday. It was the first time the West Midlands Combined Authority was able to influence the requirements for the operator during the two-year tender process.

West Midlands Trains has promised to add another 140 carriages by 2021 – a 25% increase that it says will increase rush hour capacity on its network by 85,000. It has also promised increased frequencies, especially in the evenings and on Sundays, improvements to ticketing and free wifi on all trains by the end of 2019.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the representatives from West Midlands Trains that their role “is critical in our economic revival”.

He added: “We have huge expectations. We are expecting passengers numbers to increase rapidly. We also know you have made that first-class investment already in new rolling stock.

“In particular we are all excited about the prospect of new lines and new stations – or dare I say it – old stations reopening and we are all very hungry to see that part of the franchise agreement come to pass.”

West Midlands Trains has two brands, West Midlands Railway (WMR) and London Northwestern Railway (LNR).

Mayor Andy Street with Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, MD of West Midlands Trains, and Cllr Roger Lawrence, chair of West Midlands Rail at Snow Hill to launch the new franchise

LNR operates from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, and goes from through the West Midlands either via Wolverhampton-Birmingham New Street-Coventry or Tamworth-Nuneaton before the lines rejoin at Rugby.

WMR serves the local network across 112 stations from Shrewsbury to Stratford-upon-Avon. Kenilworth will join the network in early 2018 and there are expectations of further additional stations.

The franchisee’s performance will be jointly overseen by the Department for Transport and a local body, West Midlands Rail, that is being chaired by Wolverhampton City Council leader Cllr Roger Lawrence.

Cllr Lawrence said: “It’s not just about getting people in and out of Birmingham. It is about getting intra-regional connectivity for a region of over 5m people which is a real powerhouse for the country.”

West Midlands Trains is a joint venture led by Abellio, which already operates UK trains through ScotRail, Greater Anglia and Merseyrail, and has a 70.1% share in this franchise. The Japanese companies JR East and Mitsui will each have 14.95%

JR East provide transport for 17m passengers a day but this is the first time it has been involved in running trains outside of Japan. Their involvement created a great deal of interest from Japanese media, who were in Birmingham to hear from the Japanese Ambassador to the UK as well as company representatives.

His Excellency Koji Tsuruoka said: “It is my intention as the Japanese ambassador to raise the level of the British expectation on public transport. We need passengers to be more demanding and then choose the companies that can deliver.”

The only blip was the late arrival of Rail Minister Paul Maynard, who was providing a replacement service for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, and missed the speeches.

This caused one speaker to quip: “He obviously wasn’t using the train to get here today, he’s stuck on the highway system somewhere.”