The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded a new direct franchise agreement to London Midland to operate the West Midlands franchise.
A joint venture between Go-Ahead (65%) and French firm Keolis (35%), London Midland will operate the franchise from the expiry of its current deal in next April until the start of a new long-term franchise in October 2017.
Covering local and inter-regional services between London, the West Midlands and north-west of England, the franchise carries around 64 million passengers a year.
According to DfT, the new contract will deliver improved connections, better customer experience and set new targets to improve performance, punctuality, cleanliness and customer satisfaction.
London Midland will invest £13m to offer improvements to passengers by providing more services with around 6,600 extra seats every week, and a better customer experience with free Wi-Fi and ‘click and collect’ tickets.
UK Rail Minister Claire Perry said: "We have already delivered significant improvements in the West Midlands and surrounding areas, including investing more than £60m in a fleet of brand new trains, and the massive £750m redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station, which was completed earlier this year.
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"Today’s contract with London Midland builds on this work, and will not only ensure that customers continue to benefit from better journeys, but also support long-term economic growth in the region and beyond."
Free Wi-Fi will be introduced on long-distance services between London Euston, Birmingham, Crewe and Liverpool.
When the next fully competed franchise starts, London Midland intends to offer free Wi-Fi on all services.
In order to improve security, the operator will install CCTV on cross-city Birmingham services and equip station staff with tablets to provide better information to customers.
London Midland will work with the Smart Cities Partnership, building on the existing Swift smartcard scheme, to introduce smart ticketing on trains.
Over the duration of the new contract, the franchise will be funded with a £130m government subsidy.
London Midland managing director Patrick Verwer said: "Winning this contract is a great endorsement by the DfT of how London Midland is focused on improving our passengers’ journeys.
"Since 2007, we have invested nearly £300m in trains and stations. Over the last two years, we have significantly improved performance, cutting both delays and cancellations.
"Last year, we also introduced a new timetable, offering more seats and services than ever before into and out of major towns and cities and cut our Birmingham to London fares by up to 40%."
Apart from the franchise commitments, the DfT is going ahead with electrification of the Chase line from Walsall to Rugeley Trent Valley and the extension of electric services to a new station at Bromsgrove.
New stations are also set to open at Coventry Arena, Bermuda Park and Kenilworth.
Image: The new West Midlands franchise will see London Midland invest £13m into railway improvements. Photo: courtesy of the UK Department for Transport.