End of an era for National Express rail franchise

This weekend sees the end of an era on East Anglia's trains.

At midnight on Saturday the last National Express East Anglia passenger service will run as the franchise is taken over by Greater Anglia – owned by the Dutch-based Abellio group.

After nearly eight years of running the service throughout this region National Express will be left with only the C2C service between Southend and Fenchurch Street.

The man who has run National Express' rail services for the last five years is, unlike most of his colleagues, staying with the company.

And Andrew Chivers has admitted National Express could mount a bid to win it back when the long-term franchise comes up to be awarded in 2014. He said: 'Potential franchisees will be starting to bid in 2013. We will be looking at that when the time comes.'

But as the end of the East Anglia franchise approaches, Mr Chivers said his company could look back with satisfaction on many achievements.

He said: 'Reliability has improved, on average, from 85pc when National Express, or one as it was then called, took over to 91pc today.

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'During that time we have carried 15pc more passengers on 15pc more trains over the same infrastructure.'

He accepted there had been challenges.

Main-line trains had been transferred to the region and refurbished shortly before the franchise started in 2004 – and were now becoming due for another major refurbishment.

This meant they were now looking tired, but they were basically sound and would probably be improved in the future.

However, his company pioneered close working with infrastructure company Network Rail – staff sit together in the regional control centre, working together when issues arise.

And most of the delays that have affected passengers have been because of infrastructure problems rather than train problems.

Signalling failures, overhead line problems (except rare occasions when a train has snagged wires), and engineering over-runs are the responsibility of Network Rail.

However National Express has come under fire for not communi-cating well enough with its passengers when things go wrong.

Mr Chivers insisted this had improved during the years of the franchise.

Looking forward, the new train operating company will face many of the same challenges as National Express has done over the last eight years.

The line through much of Essex – between Colchester and Shenfield – is the most intensively-used two-track rail section in the country.

The overhead wires between Chelmsford and Liverpool Street are being replaced at a cost of �200m – the basic infrastructure dates from the 1940s.

The programme should have been completed in time for the Olympics – but in the event the schedule has slipped and will not now be finished until Crossrail is completed in 2015.

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