Virgin Trains ran the West Coast franchise before the DfT awarded the contract to First Trenitalia  © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Virgin Trains ran the West Coast franchise before the DfT awarded the contract to First Trenitalia © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

West Coast partnership marks shift to new rail model

14 August 2019

First Trenitalia, the joint venture between Aberdeen-based FirstGroup and Italian-owned train operator Trenitalia, has been awarded the contract to operate the West Coast main line rail routes, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced today.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps hailed the new West Coast partnership as representing “a decisive shift towards a new model for rail”. 

It will deliver the swift introduction of significant benefits for passengers and is designed to fit with the direction of the Rail Review being chaired by Keith Williams, according to the DfT.

“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,” the announcement said.

“Subject to approval from the Office of Rail and Road, 2 trains per hour will run between Liverpool and London,” it added.

First Trenitalia will oversee the replacement of the diesel-only fleet to reduce CO2 emissions by 61%. It will also invest £117m refurbishing the current in a major refurbishment of seats and luggage space in the current high-speed trains.

Other changes will include the introduction of more flexible ticketing options and improved compensation for passengers, as well as a £32m investment into delivering infrastructure capacity and capability improvements.

The DfT said the new contract is a “significant move away from the previous flawed franchising system” and aims to tackle the issues highlighted by the Williams Review. 

The partnership will be subject to annual reviews to ensure “working is effective, collaborative and continually improving.”

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.”

And Keith Williams, chair of the Rail Review, commented: “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.”

The West Coast Partnership will run from December 2019 until 2031 and First Trenitalia will also act at the Shadow Operator responsible for HS2. 

Today’s announcement comes just a week after the DfT said it had cancelled bids on the South Eastern franchise due to “significant concerns” that the process would lead to additional cost to the taxpayer .

Meanwhile, Virgin Trains, a partnership between Virgin and Stagecoach which had run the West Coast line since 1997, are taking legal action against the DfT over its decision to ban the partners from bidding on the West Coast line in a row over pensions.

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