City workers used to call it the Misery Line but the operator of the Essex-to-Fenchurch Street train route today promised a joyful new travelling experience after retaining the franchise in a £1.5 billion deal.
There will be 20% more trains a week, a £33 million investment in stations and “automatic compensation for delays over two minutes” for registered users as part of a “revolutionary Personal Performance Promise”.
Rail operator C2C, part of National Express, also said commuters will get “the right to be sold the cheapest ticket” and detailed reports on train service performance.
Other commitments include every station being staffed, from the first train until the last service, and free “seamless” wi-fi between station and train along the route.
This blizzard of promises and public-relations initiatives was enough to win over the Department of Transport, which renewed National Express’s franchise for the Essex Thameside route until 2029.
National Express will pay around £1.5 billion to the Treasury over 15 years.
The shares rose nearly 3% to 255p. Broker Liberum Capital reckons the franchise is worth 19p a share to National Express.
It is a significant win for the company which lost the East Coast Main Line in 2009 and Greater Anglia in 2011.
However, National Express claims C2C shed its reputation as the Misery Line long ago as it is now the most punctual train operator in the UK.
Chief executive Dean Finch said it was introducing the changes after listening to customers and local interest groups along the route, which runs from Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness and includes Basildon, Barking and Southend.
“We have challenged ourselves to be at the forefront of innovation,” said Finch, promising “new levels of service not seen in UK rail”.
Reaction on Twitter to news that C2C had retained the franchise was broadly positive.
The automatic compensation scheme will mean registered passengers get a payment on their “smart” ticket or travelcard when their train is late, without having to fill in a claim form.
More trains should mean an additional 25,000 seats “serving London in the morning peak every week” as the operator banks on the capital’s economy continuing to grow strongly.