…but more details are still required on future Anglian services
East Anglian franchise.
“It is true that services in East Anglia use some of the oldest rolling stock on the national network”
Rail users in East Anglia would be unwise to applaud too loudly, as details behind the successful Abellio bid to run the franchise over a nine-year period emerge.
The ability to pay the premium of £ 3.75 billion over the contract term from October 2016 to 2025 can only include assumptions that fares will rise and that costs will be cut by reductions in staff performing customer-facing functions. And the all-new train fleet, while nice to have, is a luxury that only a state-funded railway can justify, given the parent company guarantees required by rolling stock owners.
The contents of the bid were clearly considered unaffordable by Stagecoach, which in December 2015 dropped out of the original partnership bid with Abellio (which is a part of the Dutch National Railway). Rival bidders FirstGroup and National Express both expressed disappointment that their value for money bids had been rejected, with National Express (a previous operator on the route) adding that UK franchise bids had become too expensive and that in future it would focus on lower-risk German franchises that meet the group’s capital-light criteria.
The Department for Transport appears reluctant to provide much detail behind the headlines. This may suggest its own nervousness about the outcome of the franchise in its later years, when the revenue benefits that the new rolling stock will bring suggests that double-digit annual passenger growth will be needed to meet the premium offered.
Last year national growth in passenger numbers tailed off to 2.5%, which was similar to the level of economic growth. This was lower than a typical figure of 4% in previous years, although it could be that demand has been constrained by a system that is operating at capacity at peak times.
Seats available have been constrained due to a lack of both vehicle capacity and track space. For rolling stock this issue will ease as the large orders for Intercity Express Programme and Thameslink are fulfilled and trains begin to enter service, allowing a cascade of vehicles to other locations.
There is a much longer lead time to increase infrastructure capacity. Electrification has improved service capacity in the North West because it allows longer trains to operate, as a result of the greater availability of electric units and the strengthening of trains provided by diesel units displaced from electrified lines.
But new electrification is not financially viable on the secondary and rural routes in East Anglia, while the current core network is constrained by long sections of two-track railway. There is an argument that franchise bidders might add greater value if they provided the financial underwriting for infrastructure investment, as is proposed by the formation of a joint venture between Keolis and Amey to bid for the Wales and Borders contract.
An immediate need in East Anglia is to provide a four-track railway over the 13 miles between Broxbourne and Stratford Copper Mill Junction. This would allow improvement to Stansted Airport services, to meet the aspirations of the airport operator.
This section of route has also been the subject of a Judicial Review, when the Borough of Enfield objected to the contents of the Invitation To Tender document issued by the DfT in January 2016. The ITT did not require four trains per hour to call at Angel Road station, which serves the Lea Valley regeneration that has resulted in substantial investment in the area.
The reasoning for this frequency is the same as the policy adopted for London Overground services, whereby operating four trains per hour is deemed to stimulate demand by running sufficient trains so that passengers do not have to consult a timetable when planning a journey.
There are going to be 1,144 new weekday services operated by Abellio, and there will be intense lobbying to create a timetable that meets this requirement.
There are similar constraints in meeting aspirations for services to reach Norwich from London in 90 minutes, Ipswich in 60 and Colchester in 40, with large sections of two-track railway shared by a range of other passenger and freight services. There will be two fast 90-minute Norwich return workings, but these will not be at peak times given pathing constraints.
It is not clear why franchise bidders have not offered funding for new infrastructure by partnering with engineering contractors. The financial structure is similar to funding rolling stock, where it is a well established practice that trains are not purchased by the train operator (although the vehicle owners do require guarantees, usually given by the parent company, that lease payments will be made).
It is true that services in East Anglia use some of the oldest rolling stock on the national network, headed by the 40-yearold Mk 3s on the London-Norwich route. A substantial fleet of Class 317 EMUs dating from 1981 also operates inner- suburban services in the London area - an increasing issue with the use of such vehicles is the lack of controlled emission toilets, which Network Rail aims to eliminate.
There are, however, some modern vehicles in use. The Class 379 units that are used for Stansted Airport services date from 2011, while other fit for purpose trains such as Class 170s date from 1999. These provide inter-urban services such as the Cambridge-Norwich link, which was an innovation introduced by the original Anglia Railways franchise holder.
The whole fleet renewal approach has allowed Abellio to commit to a performance target of 93%, on the basis that train failures will be eliminated when the six types of new train are introduced between January 2019 and September 2020.
The Bombardier element of the fleet, which will cater for the Great Eastern and West Anglia commuting routes, will use the Aventra platform. This will have technical similarities with the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) vehicles, with well-proven traction equipment.
The remainder will come from a new supplier to the UK - the Swiss train builder Stadler Rail, which will provide the flagship 12- car electric sets for Norwich, Stansted Airport and West Anglia routes. Stadler will also provide a mix of threecar and four-car bi-mode trains for use on secondary services.
Operating unfamiliar equipment in a new environment will require strong project and commissioning skills if the performance benchmark is to be achieved.