New Northern Rail franchise operator announced

December 11, 2015

The government have announced that the winner of the bidding process to operate our train services for the next 9 years will be Arriva Trains.

Arriva are owned by Deutsche Bahn – the German state railway – and come with a good reputation from their running of other franchises such as Arriva Trains Wales, Cross Country and the London Overground.

More importantly for us in Walkden, Arriva’s bid has met and over-reached the franchise’s minimum specification and Arriva have contracted to deliver some really exciting improvements to the network – and not least on the Walkden line !

Taken directly from the DfT website, here are the specific improvements promised for the Manchester to Wigan routes:

Passengers to/from Wigan will benefit from 7 trains per hour to/from central Manchester for much of the day, consisting of:

  • 4 trains per hour via Atherton (up from 2 off-peak and 3-4 in the peak)
  • 2 trains per hour via Bolton (to be served by electric trains once the route is electrified)
  • 1 fast Northern Connect service train per hour to/from Manchester Oxford Road, Piccadilly and the Airport (replacing the TransPennine Express service which currently operates on this route, but which will revert to operating via Bolton from December 2017)


Four trains per hour to/from central Manchester, comprising:

  • 2 trains per hour via Atherton (currently 1)
  • 1 train per hour via Bolton (as now)
  • 1 train per hour fast to Manchester Airport (as now, but Northern rather than TransPennine Express)

That’s a doubling of frequencies to/from Walkden during the week (up to 4 trains per hour in the peak) and on Sundays (2 trains per hour).

Across the region, the headline improvements to services include:

  • more than 2,000 extra services each week, with around 400 additional Sunday services, including new direct journeys from Bradford to Wakefield, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool and Hull; from Leeds to Chester and Bridlington; from Lincoln to Leeds; and from Manchester Airport to Warrington, Bradford and Halifax
  • nearly a 40% increase in capacity – creating space for 31,000 extra passengers travelling into the 5 major commuter cities (Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle) of the north during the morning rush-hour
  • a new high-quality ‘Northern Connect’ service, meaning new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys and stations staffed daily with catering services and free Wi-Fi at each one – as well as serving the 5 major commuter cities, this network will also serve other destinations including Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley, Lincoln, Worksop and Retford
  • improved ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers

(source: DfT Press Release)

Improvements to the train fleet includes:

Arriva will make a substantial investment in new and refurbished trains, which will see the introduction of 281 new carriages and the full refurbishment of the remaining fleet. We are the first operator to guarantee that all Pacer trains will be removed within three years, while by 2019 all passengers will be able to access free on-board WiFi

(source: ArriveRailNorth website)

And stations will benefit too:

Customers have told us that they want to see more customer-facing people at Arriva Rail North. So we have committed to staffing 45 stations across the network which are currently unstaffed.

We will introduce new facilities at 243 stations that will make it simpler to buy tickets and access information. Seating and waiting areas will be refurbished at 355 locations, and we will upgrade CCTV security, introduce video help points and install new customer information screens as part of our extensive station upgrade plans.

(source: ArriveRailNorth website)

While reading this list of frankly amazing commitments to improvement, it’s worth remembering these are written into the legal contract between the Government and Arriva – in other words they will not be easy for Arriva to fail to deliver.

Northern Rail – operated by Serco Abelio – worked wonders on a “stand-still” brief but the new franchise promises to be a completely different ball game. Friends of Walkden Station are very excited about the changes ahead and look forward to our first meeting with Arriva’s Community Team later this month.


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