EAST COAST passengers will have to wait until 2018 for new trains but they should see major improvements to the existing fleet from March.
In the first two years of the new franchise, just over £13m will be spent making journeys more of a pleasure, including a “deep clean” of the entire fleet, refurbishment of toilets, new carpets and seat covers and clearer on-train signs.
Passengers will see faster, more reliable on-board WiFi and better mobile phone connections - and a new phone app for ordering meals which will be varied and tastier, it is claimed.
Improved ticket offices at Wakefield Westgate, Doncaster and York and free Wi-Fi at Doncaster and Wakefield Westgate will be brought in from May 2016.
Over £25m has been set aside for investments in stations and car parks.
In Yorkshire these improvements will be most noticeable at Doncaster, which will get folding cycle hire facilities and secure cycle compounds from July 2017, and at Wakefield Westgate which will see more cycle parking spaces from July 2017.
From May 2019, there will be an additional train every two hours to Leeds and a new service will be introduced that same month between London and Huddersfield, via Dewsbury, with one train a day in each direction.
Also from May 2019, three trains an hour will operate between London and York.
First class lounges at Wakefield and Doncaster will be available to community groups during the evenings.
Patrick MCall, of the Virgin Group, promised a “revolution in customer service standards”.
He said the partnership with Stagecoach “will concentrate on areas for which Virgin is famous, such as looking after our customers and our people.”
A new approach to staff recruitment will see a new National Academy for Rail Professional Education set up in York, Derby and London.
Dr Paul Salveson, visiting professor in transport at Huddersfield University, welcomed the proposed new services and faster journey times.
“We need to look at the small print but in general the Department for Transport is making a better job of franchising than before.”
Labour politicians said they hoped the promises would be delivered.
Bradford Council’s Labour leader Councillor David Green welcomed the plan to increase the number of trains from Bradford and Shipley to London and to provide more trains on the regional network.
“Efficient transport links are vital for the economy of the Bradford district and the surrounding area.
“The delivery of the plans would provide more seats for passengers and reduced journey times.”
Councillor Val Slater, Bradford Council’s executive member for transport, said: “We hope that the new franchise will be able to deliver its promised investment and improvements, including potential funding for improvements to Bradford railway stations.
“We have already drawn up some exciting and innovating plans to improve both Forster Square and Bradford Interchange so as to bring them to the standard required for a major city.”
For many, rising fares is the main issue.
Martin Jenkins, of accountancy firm Deloitte in Yorkshire, said travelling to London by plane would be preferable if rail fares rise.
“Whilst rail has some significant advantages over air, with BA offering return flights to Heathrow from Leeds Bradford for under £150, the trade-off between convenience and cost may tilt in favour of air travel if we see significant increases in fares going forward.”