West Midlands franchise

The West Midlands franchise provides a combination of commuting, regional and longer-distance services in the West Midlands and on the West Coast Main Line. They can be split into three markets:

  • Services between Northampton and London Euston, used by a high number of commuters and connecting branch lines between Bedford and Bletchley, and between St Albans and Watford;
  • Local and regional services in the West Midlands area used by commuter, business and leisure travellers; and
  • Long distance services along the West Coast Main Line from Liverpool to Birmingham (via Crewe and Stafford) and Crewe to London via Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Lichfield and Milton Keynes. The franchise also provides direct services between Birmingham, Coventry and London, directly competing with those provided by the West Coast franchise (services currently operated by Virgin Trains)

The franchise currently operates over 1,300 services every weekday and serves 170 stations (directly managing 145), and is currently operated by London Midland, owned by Govia - a partnership between Go-Ahead (65%) and Keolis (35%).

On 7 April 2016 the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the shortlisted bidders for the West Midlands franchise competition:

  • London and West Midlands Railway Ltd, a subsidiary of Govia Ltd (a joint venture between Keolis and Go-Ahead Group)
  • West Midlands Trains Ltd, currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Group Ltd with East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co Ltd as minority partners
  • MTR Corporation (West Midlands) Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd

On 20 June 2016, MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd informed the DfT that they would be withdrawing from the competition.

West Midlands Rail (WMR) and the DfT have agreed a number of joint key objectives for the next West Midlands franchise:

  • Better for the Economy - support the current and predicted growth in jobs, housing, industry, leisure and tourism and retail with a distinct focus on each  of the three markets, and ensure there are the right services and capacity to cater for current users and future growth throughout the day and week
  • Better for the Passenger - Deliver high quality services and stations, reduce delays and cancellations, and achieve significant improvements in customer satisfaction. Provide affordable, easy to use services at the times and to the places that people want to travel both now and in the future supported by the provision of accurate and timely information
  • Better for communities - Increase engagement between the operator of the new franchise and the communities it serves
  • Better for staff - Deliver a franchise which demonstrates a genuine pride in developing staff over the long term, aiming to improve staff satisfaction, motivation and retention, and deliver best in class customer service.
  • Better for taxpayers - Make the most of the significant investment being made to make improvements to the rail network (summarised in Appendix D). Making sure the right level of service is provided to reflect travel patterns and demand, ensuring resources (funding, staff and trains) are used in the areas that need it most. Make improvements efficiently, providing value for money.
  • Maximising the benefits from investment in infrastructure - Supporting the development of a safe and accessible network to modernise and meet the requirements of a modern railway.
  • Supporting devolution - Develop a plan for the future specification and management of local services to pass to West Midlands Rail in a future franchise, providing a structure for the delivery of those rail services that is focused on the needs of the West Midlands.
  • Supporting HS2 - Work with HS2 and Network Rail as a partner on relevant works to enable the delivery of the new high speed rail line between London and the Midlands. Ensure that the foundations are in place for the West Midlands to be ready for the opening of HS2, supporting the HS2 Connectivity Programme being delivered through the recently announced West Midlands £8bn growth deal

The new operator will be required to operate the franchise in two separable 'Business Units' with one dedicated to providing local rail services in the West Midlands. A map showing the two business units can be found here. In collaboration with the DfT, WMR will be leading the management of the franchise for the West Midlands Business Unit, holding the new operator to account for their performance and their delivery of services for passengers. The creation of a business unit specifically for West Midlands local services will also allow for full devolution when the franchise comes up for renewal again, should WMR and the Secretary of State for Transport agree to take this forward.

The new operator is due to take over the franchise in October 2017, with the DfT expecting to award the contract to the successful bidder in June 2017.