The Department for Transport (DfT) have announced an extension to the Arriva Cross Country franchise until October 2019.  “Better journeys for passengers” have been promised, with the pledges including 39,000 more seats at peak times and cuts of 9 minutes on weekdays on Birmingham to Manchester services.

However, rail users should not get too excited.  No new trains are being added, so passengers will continue to enjoy the delights of Voyagers and 40 year old Inter-City 125s on the network.  A 9 minute cut to Manchester is nice, but a business traveller from Birmingham would have appreciated a reduction in journey time on their return trip and maybe a better deal on their fare, as Cross Country have some of the highest in the UK.  This is the also the only train operator that charges customers for collecting web-booked tickets from ticket machines!

For commuters using Cross Country services in the West Midlands, there are no improvements to shout about at all.  There is nothing in the blurb from the DfT saying what passengers using the services between Birmingham and Stansted Airport, or Nottingham and Cardiff will gain from the “direct award” to Arriva.  These services are used by the growing market of passengers needing to travel between the West and East Midlands as well as long-distance travellers.  The average speed of a Birmingham – Nottingham service is a miserable 47 mph, more “slow-coach” than Inter-City.  Three more years of crowded class 170s with no respite on the horizon seems to be the immediate future for these services.

Also disappointing is that the opportunity has not been seized to stop more of the Nottingham – Cardiffs at Bromsgrove, now the new station is open.  Instead, the token one train per day in each direction remains the Cross Country service, with passengers from the town being forced to travel to Birmingham on the Worcester – New Street London Midland trains if they want to make connections with other Cross Country services to the North or the South West.


To be fair, three years is not a long time and does not offer a train operator much chance to make a return.  However, Campaign for Rail will be working hard to ensure the new franchise, commencing in 2019 is rather more ambitious and gives passengers a much better deal.

5 October 2016

Not Much Change for CrossCountry