Latest Rail News

19.06.14

DfT extends West Coast rail contract to Virgin

Virgin Trains is to continue running rail services on the West Coast Main Line in a move that the government says will deliver “big improvements for both passengers and taxpayers”. 

The direct award contract for the InterCity West Coast franchise will run for 2 years and 9 months and will see the train operator continue to provide passenger journeys between London and Scotland until March 2017. 

As part of the deal, Virgin will pay £430m to run the franchise, a rise of at least 58% on the current arrangement, and will introduce new services, more seats and free superfast WiFi. 

Patrick McCall, Virgin Trains executive co-chairman, said: “We’re delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DfT. It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system. 

“This deal is great news for passengers and taxpayers, with significant benefits for our customers as well as a big increase in the money we pay to government. 

Under the new contract, which commences on 22 June, Virgin will convert 21 first-class carriages from its 9-car Pendolinos to standard class, delivering 5,500 extra standard seats per day across the network; will invest more than £20m to modernise and enhance stations, including improving waiting rooms, seats and shelters; and will put £2.5m into improving the interiors of the Pendolino train fleet, as well as spending £2.75m on improving catering facilities. 

On top of this there will be new targets for passenger satisfaction, train punctuality and cleanliness. Plans are also being developed to increase car parking at Carlisle, Lancaster and Stafford. 

In addition, Virgin will now start work to secure new direct services between Shrewsbury, Blackpool and London from December, boosting connections for passengers and local businesses. 

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The West Coast provides a vital artery between London and Scotland and it is crucial we do everything we can to improve services on this much-used route. 

“This is further proof of our commitment to get the best deal for passengers and taxpayers with Virgin set to pay more than £430 million to run the franchise. It’s all part of our long-term economic plan to drive forward our economy and provide better services now and great services with HS2.” 

Virgin will now submit plans to the Office of Rail Regulation to extend current services from London. Under the plans Shrewsbury would have two services in each direction Monday to Saturday and one service in each direction on Sunday. Blackpool North would have one service in each direction Monday to Friday. 

After the fiasco of the West Coast franchise process in 2012, the DfT asked Virgin Trains to continue running the franchise on a management basis. This arrangement ran the service on an interim basis but did not allow Virgin Trains to invest in new initiatives. The new deal moves the franchise back onto a commercial footing. 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

Nuneaton Dave   19/06/2014 at 15:05

Quiet coaches where off duty staff use mobiles, a booking system that when you ask for a forward facing seat they put you in a coach where seats only face backwards, seats without windows, the sooner Virgin go the better

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