Abellio outlines plans for East Anglia’s rail services
Don't expect miracles – that was the message as the new company set to take over East Anglia's rail services outlined its plans for the new franchise.
Dutch-based Abellio take over the region's trains on February 5 next year and will operate them under the 'Greater Anglia' banner.
But the new franchise will only last 29 months – and bosses warned yesterday that there was a limit to what they could do.
They could not offer any commitment to speeding up the service between the capital and the region – the 'Norwich in 90' campaign will not be successful during the next franchise period.
But it does aim to improve customer service. All staff dealing with passengers will be issued with iPhones or Blackberrys to keep them up to date with what is happening.
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And the company aims to tell regular customers who sign up for alerts of any problems through e-mails and texts direct to their phones.
When it takes over the services, Abellio will be responsible for 141 stations and it does plan to embark on an improvement programme across the region.
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Ruud Haket, Abellio's transition director who masterminded the successful franchise bid, said the 29-month franchise would certainly lead to a bid to take over the 15-year franchise that is due to start in the middle of 2014.
Mr Haket said: 'We will not be able to change the timetable, not until December 2013 anyway, and we cannot bring in new trains during this short franchise.
'But we will be looking to bid for the long franchise and if we succeed with that then we would look for major investment in the long-term.'
One difference passengers should notice in the near future is the state of the trains – once Abellio has taken over the service it plans to deep-clean all its carriages before the Olympics.
The government is looking at the way the industry is run in the light of the McNulty Report into the railways – and this could introduce major changes when the long-term franchise is awarded starting in 2014.
One possible change could be the introduction of differential pricing on some trains from Ipswich to London – similar to that which existed when Great Eastern and Anglia Railways were in competition during the early years of this decade.
In the meantime Abellio will be looking at ways of offering discounts to attract new off-peak passengers.
Head of customer services David Taylor said the company had introduced innovative discounts on the Merseyrail and Northern Rail services that it runs – and could bring some of those lessons to this region.
The company would start preparing its long-term franchise bid within a year of taking over the franchise. The 15-year deal will allow new trains to be ordered and deciding what should be brought in will be a key element of that bid.
Mr Haket said that could involve renewing the existing carriages with new locomotives – or introducing new 'outer suburban' electric units on the line.
However that was not something the company was able to consider at present.