The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has issued invitations to two shortlisted bidders for the new West Midlands rail franchise.
One of the bidders is London and West Midlands Railway, a subsidiary of Govia. While the second is West Midlands Trains, a wholly owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Group with East Japan Railway and Mitsui & Co as minority partners.
The two bidders have until 29 November to submit their bids, with the new operator expected to take over the franchise in October 2017.
UK Rail Minister Paul Maynard said that the bidders will have to deliver various extra services, new ticketing options and increased capacity, and must include minimum level of improvements in their proposals.
Benefits must include space for more than 20,000 additional passengers to travel into London and Birmingham in the morning rush-hour, with more than 300 extra Sunday services a year across the franchise by 2021.
In addition, a further 50 services are required in each direction between Birmingham to both Longbridge and Sutton Coldfield.
More evening services are needed from Birmingham to Lichfield City, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Whitlocks End and Dorridge, in addition to a new hourly service from Birmingham and Wolverhampton to Crewe through Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent.
Other features required are free Wi-Fi on all main line services by the end of 2019, new ticket options for part-time travellers, and additional direct peak services between Walsall and London.
Maynard said: “We are making the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era and today marks a key step forward in giving passengers better journeys across the West Midlands and beyond.
“This franchise serves both commuters and long-distance passengers and these benefits will deliver extra and smoother journeys for customers using these services.”
Operated by London Midland, the existing franchise covers a combination of commuting and long-distance services spanning the Midlands, south-east and north-west, as well as services to London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street.
West Midlands Rail has worked with the DfT to design, specify and manage the new franchise.
Image: Benefits must include space for more than 20,000 additional passengers to travel into London and Birmingham. Photo: courtesy of UK Government.