In an announcement today, Her Majesties Government has disqualified the Stagecoach Group from taking part in further franchise competitions and instead is in the process of re-letting rail franchises that it operates or has a hand in.
The disqualification is due to the company not meeting pension rules, with Stagecoach seeking urgent meetings in regards to this.
In terms of routes and networks, this will have a major impact in the UK in terms of its interests in UK Rail – in particular:
- West Coast Franchise – operating as Virgin Trains West Coast (in a 51%/49% share)- operating from London Euston to Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, Crewe, Chester, Holyhead, Liverpool, Preston and Glasgow
- East Midlands Franchise – operating as East Midlands Train (as a 100% owned operation) operating from London St Pancras to Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, as well as regional and long distance services crossing major axis from the east to the west of England
- South Eastern franchise – which will now be delayed by eight months before it can be awarded to another operator.
The West Coast franchise will last for a while longer before it is re-let as part of the HS2/West Coast Partnership franchise (in which Virgin Group, Stagecoach and SNCF were partners in bidding). The award for this is due to be announced in June, with the franchise due to end in March 2020.
Meanwhile, the East Midlands franchise will instead be operated by Abellio called “East Midland Railway” from August 2019, for a period of eight years.
Plans for the East Midlands Railway include:
- The replacement of current Intercity fleet (including the existing InterCity 125 and Meridian Class 222 trainsets)
- Trials of hydrogen fuel cell trains
- Trials “zero-carbon” stations, with six stations involved
In addition, the following promises are being made:
- more flexible and convenient smart ticketing options
- free wifi and high quality mobile connectivity on board services
- improved delay repay compensation for all passengers
- a stations improvement fund of £16.8 million, including £6.9 million for accessibility improvements
- £9.4 million of investment to deliver commercial and customer service improvements at stations
- 916 extra car park spaces and 1,050 cycle spaces
- ticket buying facilities in place at all stations
A change on the rails
Virgin Trains West Coast are one of the original franchises left from the time of rail privatisation between 1994 and 1997 – where it took on the West Coast Franchising it. Whilst there was a period of pain (with the introduction of new rolling stock as well as the botched upgrade to the West Coast Main Line), it has settled down to operate a competent (if sometimes expensive) rail service.
Meanwhile, East Midlands Trains have been operating since 2007, bedding in and trying to operate the franchise as it saw fit.
It’s a major change on the railways – make no mistake.
For now – passengers can book tickets, and have them honoured… and that’s the important thing as companies shuffle around and work out what future services and improvements are planned.
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