A new company will take over the running of passenger train services to and from West Norfolk this autumn, it has been announced today, Friday, May 23.
Govia Thameslink Railway Limited has won a seven-year contract to run the service between Lynn, Cambridge and London King’s Cross from this September.
The announcement by the Department for Transport has been given a cautious welcome by West Norfolk rail campaigners.
Colin Sampson, chairman of the Fen Line Users’ Association, which lobbies for better services on the route, said they were hoping to meet with Govia officials before they take over the franchise.
He said: “We’re looking forward to working with them and are pleased to see it is an operator with experience of running lines like ours.”
Under the new agreement, the route, which is currently operated by First Capital Connect, forms part of an expanded Thameslink franchise that will run services across much of East Anglia and the south-east until 2021.
The successful bid is a joint venture between the Go-Ahead group, which runs a host of public transport operations including the KonectBus network that serves Lynn, Swaffham and Fakenham, and Keolis UK, which currently holds shares in four British rail franchises.
Although no specific plans have been released for the Lynn line, officials say they plan to increase passenger capacity by up to 50 per cent, order three new train fleets and spend up to £50 million on station upgrades across the network.
David Brown, chief executive of the Go-Ahead Group, said: “I’m delighted the DfT has chosen us to operate this important and complex franchise.
“Our bid was focused on improving customers’ experience. I’m looking forward to working with existing colleagues and welcoming new staff and together delivering this transformational franchise.”
Keolis chief executive Alistair Gordon added: “We are pleased that the strengths of the Govia partnership have been recognised today in the awarding of this important franchise and look forward to delivering its challenging requirements.”
Meanwhile, David Statham, the managing director of First Capital Connect, said he was “disappointed” by the decision.
He said: “Everyone at FCC is committed to continue operating to the highest standards until the new franchise begins. “
And he said he was “tremendously proud” of the company’s record of service on the line since it took over the operation in 2006.
The deal marks the first award of a major rail franchise since the process was reviewed in the wake of the re-opening of bidding to run the West Coast main line franchise in 2012.
And rail minister Stephen Hammond said the contract would help to “transform” rail travel across the region.
He added: “That’s great news for businesses and the hundreds of thousands of passengers who use these vital services every day.”