The franchise extension promises better journeys for passengers on the cross country network.
Rail passengers across Britain are set to benefit from quicker journeys, thousands of extra seats and free Wi-Fi, after the government agreed a new deal for services for the Cross Country franchise. Under the contract, which will deliver improved connections, a better customer experience and set tough new targets, Arriva Cross Country (AXC) will continue to run services which stretch from Aberdeen to Penzance, Bournemouth to Manchester and from Stansted to Cardiff until October 2019.
It’s not at all clear where these extra seats are going to come from. Cross Country will be adding two coaches (Yes, two whole coaches) to their fleet, taking on a pair of spare Voyager driving cars from Virgin Trains and reforming them with two five-car sets to make three four-car sets. There is no suggestion that Virgin Trains wiill be giving up any more of their Voyager sets even though many of them spend all the time working under the wires. Perhaps in the medium term they might take on some former Great Western HSTs once they become available, to add to Croxx-Country’s existing small HST fleet. But such 40 year old trains would only be a stopgap.
As someone who uses Cross Country a lot, with many trips between Reading and places like Wolverhampton, Manchester and York, their sevices suffer from severe overcrowding at busy times, especially at weekends. It’s common to find people standing not just in the vestibules but along the aisles as well making a claustrophobic experience even for passengers lucky enough to find a seat.
Add to that the fact that the Voyager fleet originally specified by Virgin Trains isn’t really suitable for long-distance travel. Though they make some very long runs, for example from Dundee to Penzance, they’re really a glorified commuter train, with cramped seating and inadequate luggage space. They were designed on the assumption that their journeys are really several regional routes joined together end-to-end, with most passengers making short hops of two or three stops rather than travelling the whole way.
What the North-East to South West really needs is new trains, preferably loco and coaches rather than DMUs. Would the 68+CAF Mk5s similar to the recent order for Trans Pennine be a solution?