THE new franchise to run trans-Pennine rail services through Huddersfield was today won by a consortium which includes First Group.
The successful bidders beat off competition from Connex.
A new fleet of 100mph trains, a new timetable, station upgrades, 200 new jobs and increased reliability have been promised.
First Group's partner in the consortium is Keolis, France's largest private transport operator.
The new eight-year franchise will start early in 2004, with the option to extend the deal for a further five years.
Trans-Pennine expresses are run by Arriva Trains Northern, which was told in November it had lost the franchise.
The new operators are expected to invest £260m over the next eight years.
First Group chief executive Moir Lockhead said: "I am confident we can provide a high-quality service that will contribute to the region's economic growth and be an attractive alternative to the car."
Today's decision was announced by the Strategic Rail Authority three years after the bidding process began.
SRA chairman Richard Bowker said:
"This franchise will deliver better trains with better performance, improved services and more capacity - the things that matter to passengers."
First Group is Britain's largest bus operator and already runs the First Great Eastern, First Great Western and First North Western rail franchises.
Passengers in West Yorkshire today welcomed the decision.
Richard Fieldhouse, chairman of the Huddersfield, Penistone and Sheffield Rail Users' Association, said: "It is the right decision. We are particularly pleased that a fleet of new trains will be introduced, as well as an improved timetable to carry more passengers to Leeds at peak times.
"This will permit improved journeys across the Pennines. It also provides the opportunity to make better use of existing trains in the West Yorkshire area."
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