In less than a week as I write this the “London & Birmingham Railway” company trading as “London Midland” will cease to be a transport operator. The Franchise comes to an end at 01:59am on Sunday 10th December after coming into being on 11th November 2007.
On 11th November 2007, London Midland took over most of the operations of two railway franchises run by “National Express” namely Central Trains and Silverlink Trains. Rolling stock, staff and stations originally managed by the former companies also were inherited into the franchise. At 01:59am on 10th December 2017 the same will be happening again when the new franchise “West Midlands Trains” begins. The rolling stock, drivers, conductors, engineers and the various other staff transfer across under “TUPE” arrangements to the new company. Its then effectively business as usual for some time regarding timetables as these are planned in consultation with the train operating companies well in advance by Network Rail who are responsible for the track & signalling infrastructure. Any likely timetable changes will happen in May and mainly in December 2018 onwards.
The government through the Department for Transport sets out the franchise requirements and potential companies who satisfy the tendering requirements then enter bids to describe how they would operate that franchise and also what improvements they can bring to the table above what is required.
For the past decade London Midland were the franchise holders having been awarded the contract and were committed to the obligations set out in that franchise agreement.
Like any company there are ups and downs and London Midland are very aware of the downs but there has been many great achievements. Biggest one is that London Midland are now carrying 75 million passenger journeys a year which is a massive 40% increase in ten years. Thats some growth when you think of the number of households with more than one vehicle. Both the West Cost Mainline to London & Liverpool as well as the Birmingham Cross City Line has seen substantial growth in rail commuting. Im one of those who made the decision to change from using my car to and commute where possible to work and the Chase & Cross City lines are mainly what I use.
The cross city line featured in one of my earlier blogs which you can find here http://davecresswell.org.uk/blog/2014/02/there-should-be-another-one-in-ten-minutes/
London Midland was one of the pioneering transport companies to use social media to communicate with its customers when in February 2009 it launched its Twitter account. This account over the following years won many awards for engaging with its customers. Today all the UK Train Operating Companies (TOCS) operate a twitter account as well as Network Rail and National Rail. It has made a huge difference to a lot of people and has given many a voice to say what they think whether good or bad. They were also one of the first to create what became an awarding winning app for mobile phones.
In September 2011 London Midland increased its Birmingham to London Eustion service via Northampton to three per hour thus increasing the frequency to every 20 mins throughout the day.
In conjunction with Network Rail and Siemens who manufacture the 350 units used on the West Coast Mainline they launched Project 110, This was to increase the speed of the 350 units to enable direct running between Rugby and Milton Keynes central without making an impact on the existing Virgin West Coast Services. Siemens undertook modifications to the pantographs which connect to the Electric Overhead Wires and other work were then able to test 110mph running with multiple units and all pantographs raised. These tests were conducted in conjunction with Network rail to satisfy there would be no issues to the wires, signalling and the units.
In 2012 this work paid off when 110mph running became a reality and gave passengers a real choice to and from London Euston. The hourly London Midland train that ran from Crewe via the Trent Valley line to London Euston was then able to shave 20 mins of the journey time as they no longer needed to be routed via and through Northampton. A New Hourly service also started in 2012 on the Trent Valley line on Sundays between Crewe and London Euston having established there was a need.
Im indebted to Richard Clarke CMILT, who worked for London Midland at the time of Project 110 amongst other things with some corrections to my article.
” couple of corrections. We introduced 3 trains per hour Birmingham – London before Project 110, but Project 110 allowed us to do away with the portion working at Northampton which had previously been required to make it work. Also Project 110 wasn’t a franchise commitment but DfT saw the value and paid for the extra Class 350 units to make it work right through the peak and take advantage of the extra capacity created.”
London Midland invested in new customer information systems in partnership with Infotec which saw the start of real time information being taken direct from the internal rail systems. This included Network Rails signal track circuits which show to the signallers exactly where a train is. New Ticket vending machines were installed where you can buy but also collect tickets that you have purchased online. 1,000 New & refurbished bicycle spaces and even more car parking spaces for those who choose to drive to the station before catching a train. The same person within London Midland who was responsible for customer information also contributed and was the lead into what has become the industry standard PIDD (Passenger Information During Disruption) document that all Train Operating Companies and Network Rail work to.
Birmingham Snow Hill lines saw the replacement of the aged 150 units with Bombardier Derby built 172s which were launched on 2nd August 2011 and I was Privileged to be on one of them at the launch. (you can see my thoughts on that day here ) An hourly Stratford-upon-avon service via Dorridge service has also been launched during the franchise. This allowed people the chance to travel from Solihull and Dorridge without having to come back into Birmingham to get there. Some stations on the Stourbridge – Kidderminster part of the line have also benefited in extra train stops.
A joint effort between London Midland staff, Network Rail and the Heritage “Severn Valley Railway” arranged a “Farewell 150” Charity day for the Railway Children Charity which raised over £10,000. A lot of hard work behind the scenes made this happen including some LM staff who were also volunteers on the Severn Valley railway being able to drive from the main line onto the SVR metals. We went as far as the buffer stops at Bridgnorth which would have continued to Shrewsbury in the past.. Tickets were sold in advance to be on this once in a lifetime unique experience to travel along many of the places the 150s had been used including freight only loops and through the carriage sidings at Tyseley depot.
London Midland also launched an in house “London Midland Giving” scheme to supporting their staff and the charities they are involved in. You can read all about that scheme here http://www.londonmidlandgiving.com/
Some of the above were part of the franchise commitment by London Midland. The franchise was due to expire in September 2015 but the government extended it until March 2016 then made a direct award agreement on proviso of certain commitments until October 2017. This was then again extended until 10th December 2017 due to the General Election and decision being awaited on the new franchise. From 2015 onwards the company wasn’t able to order new trains in anticipation of passenger growth as the government has to give approval and with the franchise due to end no commitment could be given to the company who would lease them to London Midland if built.
London Midland also applied to the DFT to be able to run Trains between Birmingham and Preston, Alternating with the hourly Liverpool service but was turned down as well as asking permission to extend the Euston via Crewe service to Liverpool.
On the marketing side there have been some very interesting promotions like “Great Escape” where via registering online for a voucher you could buy a ticket for 1 days travel anywhere on the London Midland Network at certain times. I actually appeared in one of their internal marketing newsletters Im told as I clocked up a lot of rail miles on several of those “great escape” promotions.
Then there was the “Kate Escape” where discounted off-peak sale tickets were sold online based on the weight of the royal baby birth which was 8% for one of them
London Midland also launched the “Adopt a station” project working with the local communities at “Smethwick Rolfe Street”, Ridgmont, Lidlington, Berkswell and having been working with Local Rail promotion groups such as the Chase Line, Abbey Line Community Rail Partnership and MArston Vale group to name a few.
Recently they have won not one but three “Customer Service Recognition” awards which are hard to come by in the ever changing world of public transport.
There have been well documented downsides like the driver parity dispute between those who came from Silverlink & those from Central Trains. Issues outside London Midland control like overhead wire, flooding and other infrastructure problems. Cable theft, vandalism to signalling and trains which all add up to passenger disruption.
London Midland Labs was launched which although not part of the franchise has become a focal point for new technology startup projects relating to passengers. I suggest you go and look at www.londonmidlandlabs.com to find out whats that all about and Im sure will be continuing in some form.
There is also the issue of people deciding to take their own life by jumping or being on the tracks. London Midland, other train operating companies, BTP and Network Rail have worked alongside the Samaritans organisation to help staff recognise situations where people may be showing signs all is not well with them. There have been many suicide prevention strategies over the years but I make no bones in using the Network Rail wording for the latest one which is simple “SMALL TALK SAVES LIVES”.
“The number of suicides on the railway over the last two years has fallen by 18 per cent. In 2016/17, 237 people took their lives on the railway – the lowest number since 2010/11. Over the same period, railway employees, police officers and members of the public have intervened in over 2,500 suicide attempts on Britain’s railway.
“There are 16,000 railway employees and stakeholders who are now trained in suicide prevention techniques, meaning that one in six employees are now able to support those who come to the railway in emotional crisis.
For every life lost on the railway six are saved. Sadly, of those who do seek to take their lives on the railway one in five fail and suffer severe life-changing injuries.”
You can find out more by clicking this link https://www.networkrail.co.uk/communities/safety-in-the-community/safety-campaigns/suicide-prevention/
London Midland as part of the Go-Ahead group have built solid foundations for “West Midlands Trains” to take over the reins and fulfil their commitment and obligations to the new franchise agreement.
When the government announced the Franchise winner the plans and contracts could start to be formulated and put into place for new trains, services and for the new needs of the future in rail travel which is a lot different to what it was in 2007 when the was a declining industry. You could say that London Midland have come a long way since 2007. Ive no doubt that as the staff move across under TUPE arrangements to the new franchisee they will be looking forward to building on those achievements for the length of the franchise which is expected to run until March 2026.
With the recent Strategy for Rail announced by the transport secretary who knows what will happen during this franchise period. One things for certain is that passenger growth will continue to rise. Maybe not by the 40% it has on London Midland in the past decade but certainly will continue the upward trend. The new Cross City Line carriages will offer metro-style passenger facilities, just like on the London Overground, with increased space to carry more passengers and wider doors.
You can see the details of what in the new “West Midlands Trains” franchise agreement here.
On my part it was the right decision to leave my car at home and use London Midland as my preferred travel partner. Its been a pleasure most of the time travelling with London Midland and getting to know many of its staff in all areas of the company and I wish them well with their new employer, For me on Monday 11th December it will be business as usual travelling on my usual train but under new management. The rail journey story continues down the line……