The UK Department of Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation into the future of rail services in the north, marking the start of bidding for the new Transpennine (TPE) and Northern rail franchises.

An OJEU notice has been published by the DfT, seeking expressions of interest from operators for both franchises. They will awarded by February 2016.

As part of the UK Government’s £1bn investment in the northern network, routes across the region are set to undergo various upgrades over the next five years.

This will enable deployment of up to 700 extra trains a day and 44 million additional passengers annually.

UK Transport Minister Stephen Hammond said: "Rail travel across the north will be transformed over the next five years, thanks to £1bn of government investment. That means more seats, improved connections and better journeys for millions of passengers travelling across this region.

"It is vital that we hear the views of the people who use these services."

"To make sure we make the most of this investment and deliver a railway that is truly world-class and boosts our economy, it is vital that we hear the views of the people who use these services."

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The upgrades will improve travel between Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scheduled to run until 18 August, the consultation will look at how the new franchises use the capacity improvements planned for the network to tackle crowding and meet future passenger demand.

Furthermore, it will focus on provision of faster and frequent services to more destinations across the region, improve rolling stock, including proposals to replace Pacer trains across the Northern franchise, and enhance customer services and passenger satisfaction.

The TPE and Northern franchises have carried more than 110 million passengers in 2013. Demand for rail travel across the region has increased by 66% between 2002 and 2012.

Network Rail is currently carrying out an upgrade of the network, including the £600m Northern Hub project, North-West Electrification and Trans-Pennine Electrification project.

Image: First TransPennine Express Desiro DMU 185117 train at Scarborough railway station. Photo: courtesy of mattbuck.