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COMMENT: High hopes for new train service franchise

By Simon Penfold | Opinions | Published:

For rail travellers in the Black Country and Staffordshire, London Midland’s loss of its rail franchise is very much a mixed blessing.

End of the line for London Midland. Picture by Simon Hadley

The new operators come bearing gifts of almost £1 billion in new investment and promises of improved services between Walsall and London and between Birmingham and Rugeley, writes Express & Star business editor Simon Penfold.

And 100 new carriages are promised for the Cross City line in Birmingham. However, “The carriages for the Cross City line will offer metro-style services with increased space to carry more passengers, and wider doors for quicker access.”

Metro-style services almost certainly translates as more travellers standing for their journeys.

It will also be interesting to see how the Japanese partners in the new West Midlands franchise fare.

East Japan Railway Company, or JRE, is already a major rail operator in Japan carrying more than 17 million passengers a day but this is its first passenger venture on foreign shores.

Mitsui is a relative newcomer to railways.

Abellio, on the other hand, is a veteran Dutch-based group running public transport across Europe.

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It has operated Merseyrail with Serco since 2003 and the duo ran Northern Rail from 2004 until 2016 when they lost out to Arriva. Abellio also runs the London Bus service and has held the Greater Anglia rail franchise since 2012.The customer view of Abellio’s franchises is also a mixed bag.

In the annual Which? rail travellers’ survey in January, Greater Anglia languished fourth from bottom, with a customer approval rating of just 48 per cent. London Midland, on the other hand, was more of a mid-table performer, 13th out of 23 with a 56 per cent rating.

But Abellio’s Merseyrail franchise was the highest scorer in the survey, topping the table with 73 per cent and top marks for reliability, punctuality and frequency.

Black Country travellers will be hoping the new West Midlands rail service will be more Merseyrail than Greater Anglia.

Simon Penfold

By Simon Penfold
Business Editor - @SPenfold_star

Business Editor based at the Express & Star's head office in Wolverhampton, looking for stories big & small.

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