The Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded train operator CrossCountry a new three-year contract to continue running vital rail services.
The government said that it would cover the revenue and cost risks associated with the franchise of the long-distance operator, owned by Arriva.
Arriva CrossCountry has been running trains in England, Scotland and Wales since 2007 — with a network stretching from Aberdeen to Penzance, and from Stansted Airport to Cardiff. The contract will see it through to October 2023.
The new contract will see capacity boosted by 20,000 seats per week, more drivers and on-board staff deployed and a trial of technology to cut the environmental impact of operations.
New measures to help passengers with disabilities will be introduced, such as providing the option of reserving space for assistance dogs as well as better training for staff.
The deal will also focus on tackling environmental impacts, which will see trains powered using batteries instead of diesel when they enter and leave stations, to improve air quality.
Arriva will be paid a performance-linked fee to run services.
CrossCountry managing director Tom Joyner said: “This is great news for our customers and stakeholders and recognises the importance of our continuing to deliver long-distance business and leisure services across England, Scotland and Wales.
“Our trains connect towns and cities, people and communities across Great Britain, and this will be essential as we rebuild our national and local economies.
“We will continue to focus on highlighting the benefits of rail travel and ensuring our customers can travel with confidence.”
Travel firms, including domestic public transportation services and airlines, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Passenger numbers have dwindled since the onset of the coronavirus crisis due to a nationwide lockdown. While the lockdown had been eased over the last few months, recently a rise in infections has seen local and national measures tightened again, with capital London moving into Tier 2 restrictions on Friday night.
“It is clear that the virus is now spreading rapidly in every part of our city, and hospital and ICU admissions are steadily rising,” said the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan in a statement.
“Time and again it has been shown that it is better to act earlier than to act too late — which would cost more lives and damage more livelihoods. I am not willing to put Londoners’ lives at risk and we must do all we can to minimise economic damage,” Khan added.
In September, UK train companies Go-Ahead (GOG.L) and FirstGroup (FGP.L) signed new contracts with the government to keep running rail services for the next 6-18 months. But, the companies will not be exposed to the impact of changes in passenger demand as the government will pay them to run the services over that period.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “This agreement ensures that vital train services will continue across the UK’s most extensive rail network, as the country continues to fight and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The deal announced today reaffirms our commitment to ending the complicated franchise system, and is focused on the best interests of passengers, delivering better services and helping create a new kind of railway.”
“With a real focus on boosting capacity and seizing the opportunity to create more environmentally sustainable services, this new contract will benefit passengers in the long term, improving their experience when travelling on our railways,” Heaton-Harris added.
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