The North East Combined Authority has welcomed ‘Invitations to Tender’ for the Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises published today, promising a better deal for passengers, additional journeys across the region and new local accountability for how services are delivered.

The neca has been working on behalf of local authorities to secure improvements to services and devolution of decision making in the new franchise specifications.

Cllr Nick Forbes, lead member for transport on the neca and leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “We have secured a commitment to replace the much-maligned Pacer train, improvements to evening and weekend services, and a requirement for substantial investment in the region’s stations.

“Whoever wins the new franchise must also support community rail partnerships and join the roll-out of smart ticketing, which the Combined Authority is already bringing to bus and Metro in the North East.

“Crucially for this region, bidders for the Northern franchise will also be required to show how they will deliver a specific management unit for North East England, giving local people a say in how services are delivered for the first time.

“I now challenge the shortlisted bidders for both franchises to commit to enhancements beyond the minimum requirements in the specifications, to deliver true transformation to the region’s rail network and progress towards the vision set out in the neca’s long-term rail strategy.”

The improvements set out in the franchise specifications are a direct result of effective partnership between the Department for Transport and Rail North, a consortium of 29 local transport authorities from across the North of England of which the North East Combined Authority is a formal member.

The Combined Authority has worked with neighbouring authorities to achieve improvements including:

• Bidders for the Northern Franchise must commit to replacing ‘Pacer’ trains by 2020;

• Services between Newcastle and Carlisle increased to two per hour;

• New Sunday train services between Newcastle, Cramlington and Morpeth;

• Upgraded hourly Sunday services between Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle;

• Upgraded hourly services between Bishop Auckland and Darlington, plus new Sunday services;

• Free wifi on Northern and TransPennine Express trains by 2020

• Plans for Transpennine trains to extend to Edinburgh from Newcastle.

• New Northern franchisee to set up Management Unit to work with the North East Combined Authority and other councils to make sure services fits local needs.

Rail North will continue to work in partnership with the DfT throughout the bid evaluation process and will take a major role in managing the new franchises, once they begin in Spring 2016.