February rail roundup

What are the major developments that people with rail jobs should be aware of this month? We take a look below. 

Competition begins for new East Anglia franchise

The search has begun for the next operator of the East Anglia franchise. Procurement documents have been released by the Department for Transport (DfT), which detail what potential bidders need to consider if they wish to compete for the contract.

Among the improvements a new operator will be expected to provide include shorter journey times - especially into London - and fewer cancellations and delays, as well as investment in local stations.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, stated: "East Anglia has a thriving economy and I want it to be served by the best train services possible. Giving the region train services fit for the 21st century is vital to connecting people with jobs and businesses with customers."

Those companies that make bids for the franchise will be shortlisted following a pre-qualification stage. They will then be invited to submit detailed proposals, with the winning company set to take over in October 2016. 

Some 354,000 passengers use the East Anglia franchise's five routes each day.

Free wi-fi on trains from 2017

Passengers on certain trains in England and Wales will be able to access free wi-fi from 2017 onwards. Some £50 million of funding will be provided to bring this connectivity to trains on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, Southeastern, Chiltern and Arriva Wales services.

The DfT has revealed train operators are currently being asked to detail how they will meet this requirement and any franchise bid will now have to include this specification.

Rail minister Claire Perry stated: "I am determined to improve journeys for rail passengers. Free wi-fi is a priority for many as being able to keep up with work, connect with friends or even check the latest journey information online helps make rail travel more productive."

Port of Sunderland regains rail link

This month has seen the first trains arrive at Port of Sunderland for 20 years. Network Rail has spent £600,000 to reopen the route, which it is hoped will improve the north-east port's economy by allowing cargo to be transported by rail.

"I am proud to see this historic port being put firmly on the map again for freight and maritime projects and gearing up for more business," commented Mr McLoughlin, who visited the now operational route earlier this month.

24-hour tube plans announced

February has seen the government announce plans to implement 24-hour services on some areas of the London Underground, as well as the London Overground and Docklands light railway.

Under the proposals, the Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith and City lines will run all day long, adding to existing proposals to take the Northern, Victoria, Piccadilly, Jubilee and Central lines 24-hour from September this year.

While this would be good news for customers, the rail industry's reaction has been mixed. Mick Cash, leader of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport, described the announcement as a "blatant pre-election stunt" and claimed the necessary consultation has not been undertaken for what will be a significant change to existing services.

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