Consortium of FirstGroup and Trenitalia gets West Coast franchise
The consortium of FirstGroup and Trenitalia has obtained the InterCity West Coast franchise in the UK. Starting from 8 December, West Coast Rail, a joint venture of both companies, will start its operations on the West Coast Main Line being served by Virgin Trains for more than 20 years.
The West Coast route is one of the busiest lines in the UK, it connects London with Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The rail franchise covers the period until 31 March 2031. In this time, West Coast Rail intends to launch new direct trains to destinations including Liverpool South Parkway, Walsall and Gobowen (for Oswestry), and offer more stops at stations including Rugby, Llandudno Junction and Motherwell. “By 2022 we will offer more than 260 extra services each week, increasing seat miles by more than 10% compared with 2017/18,” the company stated. The train operator will also refurbish 56 Pendolino vehicles for 117 million British Pounds (around 128 million Euros) in order to provide a more comfortable journey for the passengers.
The partnership of FirstGroup and Trenitalia (70 and 30 per cent) also promised to invest in acquiring the more efficient trains. It plans to reduce the CO2 emissions by 61 per cent, inter alia, via replacing of the Class 221 Super Voyager diesel multiple units with environmentally-friendly trainsets. “We will introduce 13 lower emission bi-mode trains for services between North Wales and London. Ten new comfortable electric trains will enable us to run two trains per hour between Liverpool and London on weekdays and Saturdays,” West Coast Rail noted. Moreover, the company will equip its buildings with solar panels.
High Speed 2 (HS2)
The ten-year franchise consists of two distinct stages. The first one will last until March 2026. Within it, West Coast Rail will operate the existing InterCity services and provide a range of design, development and mobilisation services as Shadow Operator to the High Speed 2 (HS2) programme. The second phase includes the period from March 2026 to March 2031 when the conventional train connections will be reshaped to the high-speed ones. “Trenitalia brings direct experience of planning, launching and operating high-speed rail services. FirstGroup’s rail division has a deep commercial understanding of the UK rail market as well as expertise in launching new fleets and upgraded timetables and managing services during major infrastructure work,” the joint venture stated.