West Coast franchise winner to be test case for reform

 

Virgin trains will no longer run the West Coast mainline from the end of this year, as the franchise is handed over to First/Trenitalia from December 2019 to 2031.

Under the deal, the new 'West Coast Partnership (WCP)' will deliver intercity services on the West Coast Mainline from December 2019 and 'develop and launch' HS2 services, which are due to begin from 2026.

”Local
Lancaster station on the West Coast line

The WCP has been designed in order to ensure that it can implement the Rail Review’s outcomes. Due shortly as a White Paper, this report for government is set to re-structure the entire rail sector.

The Department for Transport (DfT) emphasised that the WCP deals marks a departure from the franchise model of the past - notably it will use a forecast revenue mechanism (FRM) 'to avoid a repeat of the issues that affected the previous East Coast Mainline', which was taken back into public sector management over and over again after operators failed.

This new mechanism will be supported by a new annual review process, 'to ensure partnership working is effective, collaborative and continually improving'.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps and Keith Williams, chair of Rail Review, said the WCP was a 'departure from flawed systems of the past, which will provide flexibility to help implement the future Williams Review recommendations'.

Mr 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.'

Targets and timetables

From December 2022, First Trenitalia 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.

It will also replace the diesel-only fleet on the line and reduce CO2 emissions by 61%, the DfT said, as well as invest £117m in a 'major refurbishment of the current Pendolino fleet'.

First Trenitalia will also oversee the introduction of:

  • more flexible and convenient smart ticketing options
  • free wifi and high quality mobile connectivity on board services
  • improved delay repay compensation for all passengers
  • £32m of investment into developing and delivering infrastructure capacity and capability improvements
  • 10 new secure cycle storage facilities; improved bus facilities; 900 new car parking spaces, and 100 new Electric Vehicle charging points 
  • new ticket machines at stations, removal of the administration fee and enabling on-the-day changes to both advance tickets and seat reservations
  • new initiatives to increase diversity, inclusion and skills retention in the rail industry

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