TRAIN companies bidding to take over the East Anglia Rail Franchise will have to prioritise modern rolling stock, the Rail Minister has insisted.

Minister Claire Perry told the Commons all train carriages must be upgraded if the bidding franchisee is to stand a chance of taking over Abellio Greater Anglia’s contract.

Three companies are in the running for the franchise, including Abellio Greater Anglia, who could return as Abellio East Anglia – a joint venture with Stagecoach.

The other two companies are First East Anglia and previous operators National Express East Anglia Trains.

Speaking at a debate on December 16, the day before the bidding deadline, Ms Perry said: “We absolutely expect the rolling stock on the whole franchise to be transformed, because we completely agree with the assertions made about its unsuitability for purpose.

“But we want the market to go away and find the best solutions for customers, based on what different customers along the routes may need.”

She added: “I can, however, tell my honourable friends that the score that we will give to rolling stock in this franchise process is the highest ever.

“We are no longer in the business, as previous Governments were, of letting franchises purely on the economics.

“That did a huge disservice to the customers who use the routes.”

Witham MP Priti Patel sat next to Ms Perry during the debate and spoke out in support of her comments.

She said: “Commuters in my constituency are fed up with using outdated and poor performing rolling stock.

“They pay huge sums of money to commute everyday and the new franchise should be used to bring in the modern rolling stock and facilities they need.

“I have reiterated this point on a number of occasions to the Rail Minister and welcome her comments on the importance that rolling stock will play in the decision on who to award the franchise to.”

She added: “We have ambitious plans for the Essex economy which require better rail services to be delivered.

“With growing demand, local commuters need access to a high performing modern railway with upgraded infrastructure, modern facilities and new rolling stock.

“The new franchise offers a once in a generation opportunity for investment in train services.”

The East Anglia Rail Franchise carries 354,000 passengers a day on five routes across the region.