London Midland has lost the West Midlands Rail Franchise. The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that the new franchise has been awarded to a joint venture between Abellio (Netherlands Rail) and Japanese partners (East Japan Rail & Mitsui). This is the first time the Japanese have entered the British rail franchise market. Abellio already operates the Greater Anglia and ScotRail networks as well as having an interest in MerseyRail.
The West Midlands Franchise covers all the commuter routes in the West Midlands conurbation as well as local services from London Euston to Crewe via Northampton and Liverpool to Manchester. It also operates regional services between Birmingham and Shrewsbury, Birmingham and Worcester via Stourbridge, Birmingham to Hereford via Bromsgrove and Worcester and branch lines from Watford to St Albans Abbey and between Bedford and Bletchley. The franchise also includes the Stourbridge Town branch with light flywheel powered trams operated by Pre Metro Operations Ltd under sub contract.
The DfT states ‘the deal will see almost £1bn of investment and new, longer trains’ but we have heard all this before and the sceptics are right to point to the recent DfT reversals of policy on electrification projects in South Wales, the North and the East Midlands. However, it appears Abellio has a good record with the Greater Anglia franchise although their honeymoon with the Scots (they only gained this franchise in 2015) has not exactly been all sweetness and light. It is therefore important that Rail & Bus for Herefordshire starts a dialogue with Abellio at an early stage in order to imprint on them the urgent need for improvements in the Hereford service, especially in terms of overcrowding and the need for longer more modern trains.