Update: Dutch company wins contract to run trains in Norfolk and Suffolk
Train services through Norfolk and Suffolk will be run by a Dutch group from next year - after the government announced the winner of the contract to run the Greater Anglia rail franchise.
The Department of Transport announced today (Thursday) that the contract had been awarded to Holland's Nederlandse Spoorwegen.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen, which will operate the franchise as Abellio Greater Anglia Limited, beat competition from UK transport companies Go-Ahead Group and Stagecoach to win the contract, which will start next February and run for 29 months.
The Greater Anglia rail franchise operates across the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire and is expected to play a key role in providing transport links into London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Services from King's Lynn will still be run by First Capital Connect, but Abellio will run services from Norwich.
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Theresa Villiers, minister of state for transport, said: 'The terms of the contract the government has agreed with the winning bidder will deliver a series of improvements for passengers during the 29 month franchise.
'These include providing better station and ticket facilities and measures to improve passenger information.
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'A text messaging service to keep passengers informed if service disruption occurs will be introduced.
'New information desks will be provided at major stations including London Liverpool Street, Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich and Stansted Airport.'
She said the new franchise would make it easier for passengers to buy tickets, including improvements to ticket vending machines.
Abellio Greater Anglia Limited has also committed to provide an extra 600 car park spaces, subject to planning approvals, more cycle storage facilities and what Ms Villiers described as 'a number of other measures to improve the service to customers' including deep cleaning of stations and trains.
The train company will take over station leases from Network Rail, taking on responsibility for all repairs and renewals at stations.
From the start of the new franchise, Abellio Greater Anglia Limited will also be expected to publish a break down of punctuality figures by route, which the government says will give passengers more transparency over the performance of the lines they use.
Ms Villiers said: 'The reliability requirements for the new franchise are also more demanding than the previous one.'
She added: 'When the franchise is renewed again in July 2014, the contract is expected to be 15 years in length. This forthcoming franchise will provide the opportunity to seek further improvements for passengers.
'We also intend to draw on the work of Sir Roy McNulty in setting the terms of the franchise with the aim of reducing costs and improving efficiency.'
The contract has been held by National Express since 2004, but was involved in a major spat with the previous government after the company walked away from its East Coast franchise after it suffered heavy losses following the onset of the recession.
National Express did not make the shortlist for the new contract.
In a statement, Abellio said it was 'delighted' to have been appointed to operate the franchise.
Passenger groups sounded a note of caution that fundamental improvements to journey times between Norwich and London could not be expected during Abellio's short-term 29-month contract.
Peter Lawrence, president of Railfuture, said: 'My suspicions are that there will be very little change for the next 18 months. I don't think there will be anything major to speed up services – to do that, you have to tackle the problem of rail capacity between Colchester and Shenfield and that will be a long-term effort.
'We welcome the minor improvements that they are proposing but we look forward to seeing much better improvements when the long-term franchise is let.'
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said: 'Congratulations to Abellio, although it is a short franchise we look forward to working with them, ensuring they keep delivering for passengers. Passengers will want to see a clear focus on punctuality, improving information and management of any disruption, and attention to driving up the overall quality of service.'