A DUTCH/Japanese consortium has won the right to operate to operate the next West Midlands rail franchise, taking over from London Midland.

The Department for Transport has announced that West Midlands Trains Ltd, a joint venture between Abellio, East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui and Co Ltd, has won the contract for the rail franchise, which includes many of the services running through Worcester, Malvern and Ledbury.

The government says the takeover will mean new longer trains with more seats and more space as nearly £1 billion is invested in the West Midlands network.

There will be 400 new carriages rolled out by 2021 and space for an extra 85,000 passengers on rush-hour services in Birmingham and London, with the longer trains providing extra seats and space for passengers.

Under the deal with West Midlands Trains, passengers will get: free wifi on all main line services by the end of 2019; for the first time, compensation if services are delayed by more than 15 minutes; improved access for those requiring extra assistance, including disabled people.

Smart ticketing and live passenger information will also be rolled out under the deal, as part of a package of reforms that will improve journeys for passengers.

More than £70 million is to be invested in new and existing depots to improve train reliability, and another £60 million on station improvements, including new car and cycle parking spaces, a cycle hire scheme, new and refurbished waiting rooms and more seats at stations.

The new contract will start in December and last until March 2026.

The franchise covers services across the West Midlands, as well as trains from London Euston to Crewe and from Liverpool to Birmingham.