The Department for Transport has announced its intention to award FirstGroup the contract to operate the new TransPennine Express rail franchise until at least 2023.

This new franchise will help deliver the Government’s vision for a Northern Powerhouse with new trains, more seats and more services. Over the life of the franchise more than £500m will be invested to transform rail services across the north of England and into Scotland. It will increase connections between the largest cities in the North and Scotland, keeping their communities and businesses prospering.

220 brand new state-of-the-art intercity trains will be introduced between 2017 and 2020, providing an extra 13m seats for passengers a year. They will be faster and more reliable, with more luggage space and more customer-facing staff and drivers will be employed. All remaining fleet will be refurbished to the same standard, so customers can enjoy the same great journey experience.

Free Wi-Fi will be available on trains and at stations so passengers can stay connected, and develop simpler, smart and mobile ticketing.

Customers will also benefit from more flexibility in booking tickets last minute or in advance and improved on-board catering. Support for changing travel patterns will see a new timetable which gives a similar level of service at weekends as on weekdays and more early and late trains. Those in education or seeking work will benefit from pioneering new fares, like half price travel for jobseekers and 16-18 year olds.

Over the course of the franchise £427m will be paid to the Government, turning it from being a subsidised railway to one which delivers a premium to the taxpayer. FirstGroup are committed to working with Rail North, Transport for the North, Transport Scotland, local authorities, customers and community groups to give them a real stake in the future of their intercity rail travel.

These plans will deliver improvements for the environment and local communities. Train carbon emissions will be cut by 30% and a multi-million pound fund will deliver improvements requested by customers and stakeholders.

Key benefits in the North East region

  • New, longer trains from 2017 and all north-east services operated by new trains from late 2019
  • More than 200% more peak seats and two trains per hour into Newcastle
  • Direct trains from Newcastle to/from Manchester Airport reinstated in December 2016
  • Liverpool to Newcastle hourly service to Edinburgh calling at Morpeth from December 2019
  • Doubling of Sunday service between Middlesbrough and Manchester Airport
  • New ticket machines and free fast Wi-Fi installed as part of a station refurbishment programme at Middlesbrough and Thornaby stations; platform extensions at Yarm

More details to be released shortly. The new franchise begins on 1 April 2016.