Claims that the new rail franchises for the North of England will modernise services, with more seats and new fleets of trains were criticised as a "pre-election stunt" and "light years away from reality" by rail union RMT.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin today published documents setting out how bidders for the new Northern and TransPennine franchises will be required to provide plans to replace outdated Pacer trains, introduce a new trains, tackle crowding and invest in stations.
They said the new round of services would accommodate 19,000 more commuters in Manchester during the morning peak and add 200 new train services every day across both franchises.
The tender process for the next franchises is being run jointly buy North of England councils and the Department for Transport through the Rail North initiative, chaired by Cllr Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.
Leese said: "We know from the consultation that passengers want to see a step-change in the quality of train vehicles, stations, more trains on Sundays and at off-peak times, and longer trains at busy peak times to ease overcrowding – and thanks to the hard work put in by Rail North, that's exactly what they're going to get.
"But this is only the starting point; the Invitations to Tender specify the minimum required from the new franchisees, and Rail North will continue to push for greater enhancements in future years which will help deliver regional economic growth by helping people get to jobs faster, in comfort and affordably."
Responding to the publication of the tender documents, Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: "These plans are being spun by Nick Clegg and the Tories in a pre-election stunt that they claim will modernise rail services in the North when in reality they will condemn passengers to poor quality, unsafe and destaffed services for years to come.
"The tender documents allow bidders to axe guards and move to Driver Only Operation, compromising safety in the interests of private profit.
"Any new trains are light years away with passengers forced to endure the misery of the clapped out Pacers, and the ancient London Underground rolling stock that's heading north, way off into the future.
"Far from the Northern Powerhouse rhetoric of George Osborne these plans condemn the north to third class rail services for years to come and are smeared in PR gloss about new trains that is all jam tomorrow.
"RMT is calling for a commitment from Labour that they will scrap the Northern rail carve up plans if elected and the union will make the continuing fight for jobs, safety and services a key election issue."
DfT has denied rumours old London Underground carriages will head north and said the new operators would have to replace the Pacers by 2020.
The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services throughout the region, and a number of long distance services linking Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, York, Manchester, Bradford, Preston and Blackpool.
In August, the government announced which companies had been shortlisted in the competition to run the two franchises.
For the Northern franchise, these are:
- Abellio Northern
- Arriva Rail North
- Govia Northern
For the TransPennine Express franchise these are:
- First Trans Pennine Express
- Keolis Go-Ahead
- Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains
A public consultation was launched in June, asking for the views of passengers and stakeholders on how the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises should be improved. Alongside the ITTs, the government is publishing a summary of the responses to its consultation.
Bidders for the Trans Pennine Express franchise have until 28 May 2015 to submit their bids. For Northern, the deadline is 26 June 2015.