COMMUTERS are being promised major rail improvements after Arriva won the franchise for the region.
The number of trains running from Wigan to Manchester via Atherton will be doubled to four per hour as part of the company’s £1bn investment plans for the area formerly run by Northern Rail.
Arriva, which has been given the franchise by the Department for Transport (DfT) has also pledged to remove the hated Pacer trains within three years, introduce 281 new carriages and fully refurbish the existing fleet.
Services on the West Coast Main Line could also be improved with trains travelling at up to 100mph between Manchester and Barrow-in-Furness and Blackpool by 2019.
Arriva’s UK trains division managing director Chris Burchell said: “We are proud to be given the opportunity to transform rail travel for customers in the North of England and to work closely with our partners to connect towns, cities and communities like never before.
“We will be investing more than £1bn to deliver a step-change in quality for customers and dramatically improving services, stations, information and ticketing.
“Our aim is to be the communities’ local railway and to leave a positive lasting legacy for the North of England.”
Announcing the new franchise, the Government hailed Arriva’s bid as a key part of making the Northern Powerhouse a reality.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “As a one nation government we are committed to closing the economic gap between north and south. This deal will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life.
“Arriva Rail North went far beyond our requirements with exciting, ambitious plans that will make a real difference to customers, and will help the region realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st century transport system. This is fantastic news for the north.”
The deal also promises 20,000 extra seats per day at peak times on trains across the north, better connections between inter-city services and local rail and bus routes and reductions in energy emissions.
However, rail union RMT slammed the announcement, claiming the new franchise operator did not remove the threat of staff job losses or safety on the network being compromised.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The battle for a publicly owned people’s railway will continue regardless of today’s profit-driven fit-up.”