The Department for Transport has announced that First Trenitalia will operate the West Coast Partnership, providing passengers with new trains, more seats, simplified fares and more frequent services on the West Coast main line (WCML).
Making the announcement, both the Secretary of state for Transport, Grant Shapps, and Keith Williams, chairman of the Rail Review, stated that, while the new partnership is vital to deliver the swift introduction of significant benefits for passengers, it is also designed to fit with the direction of the Review and to facilitate the implementation of Williams’ recommendations in due course.
Describing the previous franchising system as “flawed”, the announcement stated that this move will tackle issues already highlighted by the Williams Review, with the use 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.”
He said that he and Keith Williams both had a “shared determination to deliver a future that puts passengers at the heart of the railways and gets our trains to run on time”.
The Transport Secretary continued: “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, chairman of the Rail Review, added: “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.”
As part of its proposal to take on the franchise, First Trenitalia made a number of commitments. Amongst these, passengers will benefit from 263 extra train services every week from December 2022, with Motherwell set to become a major calling point for most West Coast Partnership services.
Other destinations, including Llandudno and Gobowen, will now be served by direct trains to and from London, while Walsall will receive its first direct intercity services. Subject to approval from the Office of Rail and Road, two trains per hour will run between Liverpool and London.
First Trenitalia will also oversee the introduction of new environmentally friendly trains, entirely replacing the diesel-only fleet and reducing CO2 emissions by 61 per cent. It will also invest £117 million in a major refurbishment of the current Pendolino fleet, providing more comfortable seats and additional luggage space.
The partnership is also committed to a number of other measures, including introducing new solar panels and energy-efficient air conditioning, a more flexible and convenient smart ticketing options, free Wi-Fi and improved mobile connectivity onboard services, a £32 million investment into developing and delivering infrastructure capacity and capability improvements, more parking spaces with electric car charging and new cycle storage at stations and new initiatives to increase diversity, inclusion and skills retention in the rail industry.
In addition to taking over current WCML services, First Trenitalia will also act at the shadow operator responsible for HS2. The government will shortly launch a review into HS2 and the Partnership has been designed in order to ensure that it can implement the review’s outcomes.
Commenting on the award of the new West Coast partnership contract to First Trenitalia, Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), wanted to remind passengers that the previous franchise holder had done a good job.
“Virgin-Stagecoach have brought significant benefits to passengers on the West Coast route including nearly tripling the number of trains between London and Manchester” he said. “We have no doubt that First Trenitalia will build on that record with plans for new trains and more services.
He continued by stating that the announcement marked “an important milestone on the route to realising HS2, which will transform rail journeys across the country, boosting capacity and helping to rebalance the economy”.
“We now know who will run the first trains on HS2 and lead on designing the whole customer experience from the timetable to the tickets that people will buy,” he added. “This signals a positive direction of travel from the Williams review in harnessing the best of the private and public sectors working together.
“We look forward to wider reforms expected from this review so that we can deliver the railway passengers want and the country needs.”