What the new £1.4bn Abellio deal will mean for Norfolk’s rail passengers

Passengers have been promised improvements by Abellio.

Passengers have been promised improvements by Abellio. - Credit: PA

East Anglia's rail travellers are heading for a revolution in their train journeys over the next five years – but now it's up to government-owned Network Rail to deliver its side of the bargain.

The new £1.4bn East Anglia rail franchise has been awarded to Abellio.

The new £1.4bn East Anglia rail franchise has been awarded to Abellio. - Credit: Archant

Dutch-owned Abellio, which has run the region's rail services since 2012, has won a nine-year contract, and will introduce new trains on every service.

The decision was announced by transport secretary Chris Grayling.

While there will be at least four 90- minute services (two in each direction) between London and Norwich each weekday, a regular service at that speed can only be introduced when track improvements have been completed – and that is Network Rail's responsibility.

The total cost of the new trains is £1.4bn. The bulk of that will be going to Derby-based Bombardier which will build 660 Aventra electric carriages for services from Liverpool Street to East Anglian stations.


The rest of the new trains will be built by Swiss company Stadler. It will be building the InterCity trains and the hybrid trains for local services.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: 'I have confidence in the decision that has been taken and what is crucial is that the new trains will let the future operator do a better job.'

Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, said: 'This is great news not only for Abellio but for the whole of East Anglia.

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'We are pleased to become preferred bidder to deliver a transformation in rail services across the region. It will enable us to build on the successes of the two short East Anglian franchises we have run since 2012.'

Lindsey Rix, managing director, Personal Lines at insurance giant Aviva, welcomed the announcement as 'an excellent result' for rail users, and said: 'Norwich in 90, free wi-fi and new state-of-the-art carriages will greatly help our business function more efficiently in the region.'

Cliff Jordan, leader of Norfolk County Council, said Abellio's appointment was 'very welcome', and added: 'These 90-minute services can't happen soon enough, so I would hope they will be in place at the start of the franchise in October.'

Mr Grayling said: 'By awarding this franchise to Abellio we will improve journeys for people in East Anglia.'

The timescale for the transformation of the region's rail services is relatively tight for a major rail investment.

The first new trains are due to be introduced in early 2019, and the entire fleet should have been renewed by October 2020.

What will the new franchise mean for travellers?

• Will fare prices go up to pay for the new trains?

Regulated fares – which include season tickets and walk-up off peak fares – should not increase by more than the rate of inflation during the course of the current parliament. That was an election pledge from the Conservatives before the 2015 general election. After 2020 it all depends on politics.

• How will trains from Lowestoft run to London?

All those trains not heading to London are described as 'regional' services, and instead of being operated by traditional diesel units, they will have hybrid power. While running under wires they can pick up electricity from above, but when on non-electrified lines their diesel motors will kick in. That means trains running from Ipswich to Cambridge will be able to pick up overhead power until they reach Haughley – saving diesel and cutting pollution.

• Will InterCity trains have catering?

Refreshments will be available on InterCity trains, either from a buffet counter or a trolley service – there are no plans to re-introduce a traditional restaurant car service.

• How fast can the trains travel?

The InterCity trains have a maximum speed of 200kph (125mph) but are unable to reach that in this region because the track is not good enough. However the important issue is that they are able to accelerate much faster than existing trains, so some travel time improvements will come as a result of the new trains before the track is upgraded. Aventra trains also have good acceleration and have a top speed of 90mph.

• What about other services?

All the new trains on the Greater Anglia network will offer free wifi for travellers and there are likely to be more plugs allowing devices to be charged by travellers while on the move. All trains will have to have automatic doors and there will be no toilets that flush directly on to tracks.

• What is the timescale for the improvements?

The first new trains are expected to be introduced in the region in early 2019. From then new trains will be delivered regularly with the last new trains arriving in October 2020. By then all the existing trains in East Anglia should be transferred to other parts of the country – or scrapped.

• What does Network Rail need to do?

To improve train times significantly Network Rail needs to upgrade sections of track in Essex, improve Haughley Junction, and close a number of level crossings on the main line. It says it still needs to secure funding for these upgrades – expect serious political pressure.

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