England

West Midlands rail franchise bidder 'can remove seats'

London Midland Trains
Image caption Govia, which owns London Midland, currently operates the network

Bidders for the West Midlands rail franchise are being given permission to remove seats and create more standing room to fit more passengers in.

Current operator Govia, which owns London Midland, and West Midlands Trains Ltd, have been formally asked to tender for the network.

Standing room on some routes can be cut from about half a square metre to a quarter, bidding documents state.

Those overseeing the bids, said it would only affect short journeys.

The network covers the Midlands, south east, north west and services to London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street.

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Image caption Malcolm Holmes, from West Midlands Rail, said the reduction in space would only be for short journeys

To help with increased passenger capacity, bidders can reduce standing room on some routes to about a third of a metre and down to a quarter of a metre on Cross City journeys - between Lichfield in Staffordshire, Birmingham New Street and Redditch in Worcestershire.

Other requirements for the franchise include proposals for more Sunday and evening services, extra trains from Birmingham to Shrewsbury, direct services from Walsall to London and free wi-fi on all trains.

Malcolm Holmes, from West Midlands Rail, part of the new West Midlands Combine Authority which is co-ordinating the process with the Department of Transport (DfT), said the extra standing space makes sense.

"You have to remember this is for short journeys," he said.

"The majority of journeys on the Cross City line are less than 20 minutes.

"There will of course still be seats on the train. There'll be plenty of seats and this is just to allow much better standing capacity on the trains for the short journeys."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said passengers who are travelling for more than 20 minutes should be able to have the option of a seat.

"It's important that bidders for the franchise consider the needs of all passengers when designing train interiors" he said.

"Where passengers do have to stand it is important they can do so in safety and in relative comfort with plenty of hand rails available."

The DfT has said the new operator is expected to be announced in June 2017 and take over the franchise in October.

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