Government confirms new West Coast franchise will operate WCML & HS2 services

4 November 2016  •  Author: Katie Sadler, Digital Content Producer, European Railway Review

The UK government has confirmed the new West Coast franchise will combine the West Coast Main Line with the development and introduction of High Speed 2 (HS2) services.

HS2 EXTERIOR_DESIGN

On the 04 November, the government revealed a new franchise, known as the West Coast Partnership, will both operate services on the West Coast Main Line from 2019 and be responsible for the design and introduction of HS2 services from 2026. The franchise will run HS2 services for the first 3 to 5 years.

“By combining the franchise we are ensuring we get the right people on board at an early stage to design and manage the running of both services in the transition stage”

Transport minister Andrew Jones commented: “We are embarking on a new chapter in our modernisation of the railways and we need world-class expertise to deliver it.

“HS2 will be the backbone of Britain’s railways, creating more seats for passengers on the West Coast and increasing capacity on the rest of the network.

“By combining the franchise we are ensuring we get the right people on board at an early stage to design and manage the running of both services in the transition stage. The new franchise will attract highly experienced companies, who have the right experience, which ultimately means a better deal for passengers – both now and in the future.”

Phase One of HS2, due to open in 2026, will see trains travel at high speed between London and Birmingham before running on from Birmingham on the existing West Coast Main Line.

Winning bidder to collaborate with HS2 to design, launch and operate initial high speed services

The operator of the franchise will collaborate with HS2 to design, launch and operate initial high speed services in order to evolve the timetable on the West Coast Main Line as it is revised to incorporate additional HS2 capacity.

Chairman of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins said: “This is a real opportunity to ensure HS2 services complement and enhance existing ones. I have always been clear HS2 will not be a standalone railway but fully integrated with the wider network. It will provide a new backbone for our railways, modernising services to better serve towns and cities up and down the country.

“Bringing on board a new partner to work with HS2 Ltd now will help ensure we are working towards the same goal.”

The winning bidder must combine experience of delivering both conventional and high speed railway operations with transforming customer service through the use of cutting-edge technology.

Furthermore, the government calls on the new operator to build on the existing West Coast franchise by improving connections, reliability and punctuality and work closely with local transport authorities, Transport Scotland and the Welsh government to ensure passenger demands of the West Coast Main Line.

A Virgin Trains and Stagecoach joint venture has run the West Coast line for almost 20 years.  The government will award the operator a new short term contract of approximately 12 months for the continued operation of services on the West Coast Mainline, following the end of the current franchise in 2018.

A formal expression of interest for the West Coast Partnership will be published in December 2016, followed by an invitation to tender in October or November 2017. The new franchise scheduled to commence on 01 April 2019.

Industry reaction…

Reacting to the announcement, Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “The rail industry is working hard to ensure HS2 is seamlessly integrated with the existing network as one railway and this decision is crucial to enabling that. It also signals a smooth transition when the new line opens in 2026.

“HS2 will become a very important part of Britain’s railway for decades to come, and will play a huge part in managing the capacity challenge that we face. Rail companies are investing more than £50billion as part of the Railway Upgrade Plan to build the bigger, better, more modern railway that Britain needs to carry even more people and freight safely, quickly, reliably and efficiently. That work will continue while we build HS2”.

Patrick McCall, co-chairman of Virgin Trains, responded to the government announcement: “We’re immensely proud of what Virgin Trains has achieved over the last two decades and the unique and unrivalled focus on the customer we’ve brought to communities along the line. There are clearly huge advantages in having continuity of service during HS2’s critical enabling works – both up to the start of the new franchise in 2019 and beyond.

“We firmly believe the franchise system has brought unparalleled success to the UK rail industry, with public-private partnerships between Government and franchisees like Virgin Trains delivering success, innovation and growth that would simply never have happened under public ownership.”

“It is imperative that capacity for freight is fully included in network planning”

Maggie Simpson, Rail Freight Group (RFG) executive director said, ”This is a pragmatic move by Government for developing high speed passenger services, but makes no reference to how the needs of other network users will be included. 

“With 95 percent of today’s intermodal services using the West Coast at some point, and strong prospects of future growth in many markets it is imperative that capacity for freight is fully included in network planning. 

“Government needs to clarify how it expects the Partnership to work with freight operators and their customers in building a shared future on this vital artery.”

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