Virgin Trains has been part of the privatised railway since 1997 when it took over runing of the West Coast Mainline. This will come to an end this year as First Trenitalia (a joint venture of FirstGroup and ) take over the West Coast Railway Franchise – now dubbed the West Coast Partnership.
The new operator is a 70:30 joint venture between First and Trenitalia, and will operate in two distinct phases
- Phase one will be from 8th December 2010 to March 2026, which will operate the existing Intercity West Coast Service, whilst designing and developing the services as a shadow operator for High Speed 2.
- Phase two will be from March 2016 to March 2031 where First Trenitalia will operate both the West Coast Main Line and HS2 services under a management contract.
In terms of rolling stock, the existing fleet of 56 Pendolino trains will be completely refurbished, incorporating 25,000 brand new comfortable seats and additional luggage space for passengers.
In addition, 13 new bi-mode trains will be introduced to operate between London and North Wales, and 10 extra electric trains will be added to enable a twice-hourly London-Liverpool service.
Meanwhile the existing Super Voyagers will be withdrawn.
In addition, a “better and free” Wi-Fi service will be offered, with power at all seats. Catering will be upgraded with at-seat service for all.
The partnership is promsising more than 260 extra services a week by 2022, with addition direct servics from Liverpool South Parkway, Walsall and Gobowen (for Oswestry), and offer more stops at stations including Rugby, Llandudno Junction and Motherwell.
Its an actual amazement that a franchise has been awarded – with the Cross Country franchise delayed multiple times, and the Southeastern Franchise competion cancelled.
It seems that one of the way the award went through is with the addition of a forecast revenue mechanism (FRM) to avoid a repeat of the issues that affected the previous East Coast Main Line. This mechanism will be supported by a new annual review process, to ensure partnership working is effective, collaborative and continually improving.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
This award is positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway, and also represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail.
It is a Partnership supported by Keith Williams, built with the flexibility to respond to his recommendations and deliver fundamental reform to a flawed system. Meeting Keith last week confirmed our shared determination to deliver a future that puts passengers at the heart of the railways, and get our trains to run on time.
That is why I have asked Keith to produce his recommendations for a white paper, with fearless proposals that will deliver a railway system fit for the 21st century.
Keith Williams, Chair of the Rail Review, said:
The railway needs reform that prioritises the customers and communities it serves, with an absolute focus on delivering benefits for passengers. I have also been clear that my review must not stop or delay investment and innovation.
This West Coast Partnership delivers for passengers. It is a step forward that is firmly in line with the review, introducing benefits for passengers today and capable of incorporating the reforms needed for the future.
Today’s award confirms that, from December 2022, passengers will benefit from 263 extra train services every week, with Motherwell set to become a major calling point for most West Coast Partnership services. Destinations including Llandudno and Gobowen will now be served by direct trains to and from London, and Walsall will receive its first direct intercity services. Subject to approval from the Office of Rail and Road, 2 trains per hour will run between Liverpool and London.
Different hats, same people, new management
On day one, for First Trenitalia there won’t be many changes as they will still have the same staff, the same fleet and the same issues that Virgin trains has – and those will need to be worked through step by step.
However, as things progress between now and 2022, there’s a lot to deliver in terms of new trains, new experiences atnd routes.
Whilst some will morn Virgin Trains leaving the UK rail scene, its the nature of the franchising system that has been embedded. Let it not be said they have not tried to innovate, as well as introduce tilting trains on the National Rail network
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