Will passengers continue to face the removal of seats – and toilets – to enable more to stand sardine-fashion in West Midlands trains? Abellio promises standing room for 50,000 extra people on shorter rail journeys.

The West Midlands rail franchise has been awarded to a joint venture between East Japan Railway Company, Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co and Abellio –  the Dutch state rail operator’s international arm – which has a 70.1% stake. The nine-year contract will begin services on December 1.

London Midland reports to the Department for Transport but trains running only in the West Midlands area will now be jointly managed by the Department for Transport and West Midlands Rail, a consortium of 16 local councils.

Undertakings made on Abellio’s website

  • Nearly £1bn invested in services on the network over the course of the franchise with £700m of this going into investment in new and refurbished trains. 400 new carriages will be rolled out by 2021.
  • 20,000 extra rush hour seats for people in Birmingham and 10,000 for people in London. On top of this, standing room for 50,000 extra people in Birmingham, in metro style carriages for shorter cross-city journeys;
  • £70m invested in new and existing depots to improve train reliability;
  • Over £60m invested in station improvements, delivering over 1,000 new car parking spaces and over 2,500 cycle parking spaces. This is alongside new and refurbished waiting rooms, more seats at stations, and feasibility studies into developing new stations in the West Midlands;
  • A greater choice of travel options for passengers thanks to the introduction of new Sunday services by 2021. This includes services from Birmingham to Shrewsbury and between Bedford and Bletchley;
  • Greater provision of passenger information, with audio visual displays on all trains by the end of 2019, as well as 800 new digital screens across the network;
  • Free WI-FI on all trains by the end of December 2019;
  • The creation of over 900 new apprenticeships over the course of the franchise, with existing staff benefitting from a £13m investment in staff training and development; and
  • An investment of £1.25m into community rail initiatives.

Abellio promises, on its website, that this investment will bring significant improvements to the network. By the end of the franchise, space will have been created for 85,000 more passengers to travel to London and Birmingham during rush hour, with hugely improved stations and the widespread introduction of smart ticketing.