Abellio wins nine year rail franchise

An Abellio Greater Anglia train
Image caption Abellio has won the franchise to continue delivering rail services in the East region for the next nine years

"For too long East Anglia has been unloved in rail terms - that's going to change."

Those are the comments of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, summing up the importance of his announcement that Abellio will continue to run the new Greater Anglia rail franchise.

"This is part of our plan to make an economy that works for everyone by ensuring prosperity is spread throughout the country," said Mr Grayling.

For rail campaigners, led by the East region's MPs, it's a key moment.

For the first time, the East of England's main rail franchise is long enough, at nine years, to encourage serious investment, Abellio says.

It plans to spend £1.4bn on more than a thousand new carriages, free on board wi-fi and station improvements.

For the first time there are tough requirements on the operator to improve punctuality and the general customer experience.

"The Treasury, the Department for Transport and local MPs will be measuring progress every day and every month as will the travelling public," said Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who helped lead the campaign for improvements to services.

He added: "If Abellio doesn't deliver on the promises its made, the franchise will be stripped from them early."

Image copyright Abellio Greater Anglia
Image caption Calls have been made for Abellio Greater Anglia to make improvements

This franchise is the result of a long and well co-ordinated campaign which saw the plight of the region's rail service and its 97 million commuters regularly raised in parliament and at meetings with ministers.

There was a real feeling the region had been neglected and underfunded for years.

"This is a huge win for passengers and a great boost for our economy," said Chloe Smith, the MP for Norwich North.

"It means thousands of jobs coming to the area because the transport can be so much more reliable."

Our inbox has been full of comments from MPs and business organisations welcoming the news.

All of them say they intend to hold Abellio to its promises, but installing a new franchise holder is only part of the campaign to improve our railways.

The other part involves the government and Network Rail spending millions of pounds on new track and signalling. That has started, but there is still a long way to go.

Work on the Ely junction has been delayed and we still don't know when the new overtaking lines will be laid in Essex.

If Abellio can live up to its promises this will be an important moment for rail passengers in the region, but the government needs to do its bit as well.

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